Villains with facial scars

For as long as I can remember, scars have been used as a visual shorthand for villainy in movies. I can’t count the number of henchmen I’ve seen who have scars across one eye, and major characters like Le Chiffre from Casino Royale, The Joker from The Dark Knight, and Kylo Ren from the new Star Wars trilogy are recent examples which prove that shorthand is still regularly used today.

But the British Film Institute, or BFI, is trying to combat the negative stigma associated with disfigurement: the organization has announced that it will no longer provide funding for films that include villains with facial scars.

According to The Telegraph, the BFI won’t be supporting films that have scarred villains; in fact, they just funded a new drama called Dirty God that focuses on a woman in South London who rebuilds her life after an acid attack, and the movie will star newcomer actress Vicky Knight, a real-life burns survivor.

“Film is a catalyst for change and that is why we are committing to not having negative representations depicted through scars or facial difference in the films we fund,” said BFI deputy chief executive officer Ben Roberts.

This situation reminds me of a couple of lines from the 1993 western Tombstone:

Nobody’s saying filmmakers can’t make movies with villains who have facial scars. They’re just saying the BFI won’t be financially supporting the ones that do. This isn’t a freedom of speech issue – the BFI has always been able to choose which movies they provide funding to. It’s just a way for the organization to acknowledge the power of film and take steps to do something to change a negative perception in society.

A charity called Changing Faces launched a campaign called #IAmNotYourVillain, and the BFI is the first organization to offer its support. Becky Hewitt, Changing Faces’s chief executive, explained why this is an important topic:

“The film industry has such power to influence the public with its representation of diversity, and yet films use scars and looking different as a shorthand for villainy far too often. It’s particularly worrying…to see that children don’t tend to make this association until they are exposed to films that influence their attitudes towards disfigurement in a profoundly negative way.”

In short: if people have scars on their faces, that doesn’t mean they’re evil.

There’s a line in the BFI’s Royal Charter that says the organization was founded in part “to promote their use as a record of contemporary life and manners”, so this seems like one effective way for the BFI to adapt to our more socially conscious era.

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