ACCESSIBILITY IN THE NEWS: "SCARY-LOOKING" VILLAINS
This article originally appeared in the March 2022 issue of Equal Access.
Have you ever noticed that movies often assign villains scars, wounds, or other physical trauma to seem more scary? Connecting a villain’s evilness to a physical disability or atypical feature has a long history in the movie industry. This trope has reinforced misinformation about people with disabilities.
In her article “Why a disfigured or disabled screen villain is an idea that needs to die”, Jessica Gibson highlights the problem of repeated negative depiction of disability presented in the 25th James Bond film No Time to Die that features three villains, all of whom have facial disfigurements. James Bond films have a long history in representing facial deformities and physical impairments as evil, while everyone else who has no physical bodily differences are comic and heroic characters.
Gibson draws our attention to how characters’ differences in many films are usually related to tragic backstory that makes these characters seek revenge and become evil. The writer gives plenty of examples including Voldemort from Harry Potter and Kylo Ren from Star Wars where facial deformities and scars are wrongly associated with extreme violence.
CONNECTING A VILLAIN’S EVILNESS TO A PHYSICAL OR MENTAL DISABILITY HAS A LONG HISTORY IN THE MOVIE INDUSTRY. THIS TROPE OF DISABILITY HAS REINFORCED THE STIGMATIZATION AND MISREPRESENTATION OF PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES.
Such representations matter because they reinforce the harmful stereotypes about people with disabilities or facial differences. They are also described as outdated and lazy by disability activists as they show ignorance about the nature of the disability.
One must wonder how it feels to be someone with a disability watching these tropes again and again. What message do they get from that? You are connected to evil, and people are afraid of you. No chance you will be considered a hero.
This problem has driven campaigns such as I Am Not Your Villain in the UK to advocate for more equal representations of visible differences on TV. Although we have seen a few positive examples in the film industry where disability is fairly represented, the negative trope of disability is still pervasive and is “an idea that needs to die.”