Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Now that Ed Skrein has quit ‘Hellboy’, Gemma Chan must leave ‘Mary, Queen of Scots’



I celebrated the news that white British Ed Skrein discovered his pair after all. Having been offered the role of Japanese-American superhuman Ben Daimio, Skrein finally agreed with what his reflection in the mirror and the rest of the sighted world were telling him, and quit before he made himself look like a twerp. 

I have no doubt about his sincerity in wanting to help the struggling Asian members of his fraternity, and I do agree that ‘Ben Daimio’ is not your typical Japanese-sounding name ('daimyo' 大名 'grandly/greatly named' is a feudal title which is normally translated as 'Lord'). Nevertheless, the problem is not with Skrein, but the indsutry he works in. All those so-called brilliant minds he knows clearly do not understand the meaning of ‘racebending’ and ‘colourblind casting’, and if they do, I think they are trying to dismiss the racism that is so visible in their industry.

The ‘Ben Daimio’ of the comics has always acknowledged his Japanese roots, and has been drawn as such, so when the production team behind the new ‘Hellboy’ insisted on Skrein, they were not colourblind casting, but racebending. 
  
A similar trick is being played with ‘Mary, Queen of Scots’, a new biopic about Mary, Queen of Scots, starring the very Chinese Gemma Chan as the very Caucasian Bess of Hardwick. Now, I have nothing against Gemma Chan at all - I support her and hope she'll have a long career, and that is why I have to write this - but I just think that it'is not fair that Skrein was put under so much pressure when there is relative silence over Chan.

If this new film about Mary, Queen of Scots were not a biopic but a steampunk story about a time-travelling girl from the present day who swallows The New Caledonian Turnkey Stone by mistake, gets sent back in time, discovers a fellow time-traveller calling herself ‘Bess of Hardwick’ (because it makes her sound fierce) who is spying on Mary in order to get close to Elizabeth I, all the while plotting to steal Elizabeth’s crown jewels and use them and the Turnkey Stone to create a widget in order to teleport herself back home, then yes, by all means, cast Gemma Chan as ‘Bess of Hardwick’, because there is no mention of the race(s) of the two time-travellers, and either or both time-travellers could be of any race. This is colourblind casting.

But Chan’s casting, like Skrein’s in ‘Hellboy’, is racebending. ‘Mary’ is a biopic. Apart from the historical Bess’s relatively small eyes (FFS, some Chinese have big eyes, BTW), there is nothing in any record which suggests that she or her ancestors followed Marco Polo to Italy from China and wound up in England. Every record suggests that there was a 99% chance that Bess was a white Englishwoman.

Until the historical record proves otherwise, Gemma Chan taking on the role of Bess of Hardwick is racebending, pure and simple, and the producers of ‘Mary’ should be ashamed of themselves for treating her this way. The promise of fairness and equality is one thing, but this is not the project to offer it. What they have done is nothing but tokenism and racebending, and both will not give white and Asian actors an equal chance to showcase their acting chops on-screen. Colourblind casting will.

We Chinese are proud, and rightly so, of inventing and coming up with so many things, but being historical wannabe kingmakers in England and the founders of English royal families never did come under our radar, and it would be wrong to take credit for that.  And that Elizabethan look does not suit everyone; just look at Margot Robbie. 

Anyway, I am grateful that Ed Skrein finally did something about the racism in his industry. Hopefully the new Hellboy will be the first of many more, and hopefully, Skrein and Chan will appear in projects which will afford them the dignity and respect they and their fellow actors deserve, and which will be intelligent enough for the rest of us as audiences to enjoy.

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