Films that have facially-scarred villains will no longer receive funding from the British Film Institute (BFI), the organisation has announced, as part of a campaign to remove the stigma around disfigurement. From Darth Vader to Scar in The Lion King, film-makers have long made a link between physical disfigurement and evil, reported The Guardian.
The BFI is backing the #IAmNotYourVillain campaign launched by Changing Faces, one of the charities the Telegraph is supporting as part of this year’s Christmas appeal. As the first organisation to support the project, the BFI is leading the effort to remove the stigma from facial disfigurement by casting actors who do not fit the traditional Hollywood aesthetic.
Ben Roberts, BFI deputy CEO said, “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.” He added, “This campaign speaks directly to the criteria in the BFI diversity standards, which call for meaningful representations on screen. We fully support Changing Faces’ #IAmNotYourVillain campaign, and urge the rest of the film industry to do the same.”
In line with this commitment, the BFI film fund has given financial backing to a forthcoming drama called Dirty god, featuring a woman in South London rebuilding her life after an acid attack. It is especially notable for the casting of newcomer Vicky Knight – a burns survivor herself – in the leading role. The BFI’s decision is also part of a recently announced diversity commitment, which includes a 7% target for film-makers with a disability.
Changing Faces, who provide advice and support for people with a visible difference, has welcomed the news as a positive step forward. “The film industry has such power to influence the public with its representation of diversity, and yet films use scars and looking different as shorthand for villainy far too often,” stated Changing Faces chief executive, Becky Hewitt. “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.”
The BBC was recently criticised by disability charities for casting the able-bodied Charlie Heaton to play John Merrick in their new version of The Elephant Man. Activist groups claimed that Merrick was portrayed as a victim with no control over his life and that the film recycled many of the outdated stereotypes that should be countered in the future. Phyllida Swift, a campaigns manager for Changing Faces, said that Wonder, the 2017 comedy drama starring Julia Roberts, is an accurate recent portrayal while criticising the use of prosthetic special effects, and said that the Harry Potter films were the main positive depiction of facial scarring.
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