Daniel Dae Kim in Hellboy Is Better, but Still Problematic

Daniel Dae Kim will play Ben Daimio in the third Hellboy film, Hellboy: Rise of the Blood Queen, a role previously offered to obviously white actor Ed Skrein. To Skrein’s credit, he turned down the role, saying, in part, "[R]epresenting this character in a culturally accurate way holds significance for people, and that to neglect this responsibility would continue a worrying tendency to obscure ethnic minority stories…I have decided to step down so the role can be cast appropriately." While Kim is unquestionably a better choice, he's still not the best choice or even necessarily a good choice for a simple reason.

Captain Benjamin Daimio is Japanese American (and for anyone who hasn't read BPRD, he's also the grandson of the Crimson Lotus). Daniel Dae Kim is a Korean American actor who was born in Busan, South Korea and moved to the United States when he was two years old. He needed to relearn Korean for his breakout role as Jin-Soo Kwon in Lost.

Korea is not Japan. Japan is a large archipelago country that dates to prehistory and has a complicated relationship with the United States. Korea is a smaller peninsular country that has been the homeland from one to three kingdoms in the past, and is currently divided in two. They are geographically separate places with their own vastly different cultures, mythologies, languages, and histories. And the idea that there's "no difference" must end. Sure, white people in this country might not be offended if they were mistaken for Irish instead of German, but see how that would fly in Europe itself. To act above such necessary acts of intelligence and sensitivity betrays one's privilege.

In accepting the role, Kim said, "I'm excited to confirm that I've officially joined the cast of Hellboy…I applaud the producers and, in particular, Ed Skrein for championing the notion that Asian characters should be played by Asian or Asian American actors." I don't fault Kim for accepting the role. He's a great actor, deserves his share of great parts, and has earned several awards. He has been vocal about the pay disparity between his white costars and himself on Hawaii Five-O.

I fault the Hollywood casting practices that have conflated the entire continent of Asia yet again. This is the casting equivalent of shrugging and asking, "Korean? Japanese? What’s the difference?"

It’s too bad casting directors didn't think to call Ken Watanabe, Shun Oguri, Takeshi Kitano, Jin Akanishi, Takeshi Kaneshiro, or Toma Ikuta to portray Ben Daimio. If you think I had those names in my back pocket as some sort of “gotcha” tactic, they were simply the first six results of the Google search for "list of Japanese actors," an action that took me all of two seconds, but was still too much effort for whoever is in charge of casting Hellboy. I would have used the results for "list of Japanese American actors," but that includes three dead people and two women. As much as I would like to entertain the possibility of a female Ben Daimio, how awesome would it be to see Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa (Star Trek: The Next Generation, Mortal Kombat) in the role?

The notion of the Asian monolith has proven persistent and is just as harmful as any other racist stereotype plaguing POC actors. The Sanctum Sanctorum of Doctor Strange was supposed to be in Tibet, but the set designer settled on "P.F. Chang's waiting area" instead of drawing on any particularities of any of the 48 countries that make up a continent larger than North America. I'll probably still see Hellboy, but Hollywood can't be congratulated for doing a better job when that "better job" still amounts to racism.

Devin Whitlock's picture
on September 21, 2017

I've enjoyed comics since I was ten years old, but won't reveal how long ago that was. I'm a freelance writer and editor based in Chicago, and can usually be found at a local bar with a book in one hand and a drink in the other. I'm so happy to be contributing to Geeks OUT!