I went to see Wonder Woman this afternoon. I really enjoyed it – loved Diana’s strength, resilience, no bullshit attitude and her belief in love. The costumes were amazing.
But you know what saddened me? That the villain – Dr Poison – had a facial difference. Jason mentioned it to me when we recorded our podcast on Friday, so I was prepared.
(Spoiler: she took the covering off to reveal a scarred face. I searched for a long time to find a picture of Dr Poison without the partial mask, but had no luck.)
There was no backstory about why she had a facial difference. She was evil, intent on killing people using chemical warfare, and had a facial difference.
I am tired of the trope that beauty equals good and facial differences equal evil. Let’s face it, Diana was stunning – luminescent and loving – she wanted to save the world.
Slate recently featured an article questioning why movie villains have dermatological issues.
“But it illuminates several aesthetic similarities between evil characters, making a convincing case that skin conditions are used as shorthand for evil across film genres. Six of AFI’s top 10 villains would get clinical dermatological diagnoses, the authors contend, compared to none of the top 10 heroes. Three of the villains (Hannibal Lecter, Darth Vader, and Mr. Potter of It’s a Wonderful Life) have alopecia; three have dark eye sockets, or “periorbital hyperpigmentation” (Vader, The Exorcist’s Regan MacNeil, and Snow White’s Queen); deep rhytides (wrinkles), facial scarring, and warts claim two villains each; and one top villain, the Queen, also has rhinophyma, a bulbous, ruddy nose with enlarged pores.”
I recently wrote about the issues with facial difference in Beauty and the Beast. “But it’s just a movie, stop ruining the childhood magic, people cried! Oh yes they did!
But when I raised the issue of Dr Poison on Facebook and Instagram, there wasn’t the same outcry. People are thinking more broadly – because of exposure and discussion about facial difference. When people tell me they are thinking about representation more because of my work, it makes me happy.
I hope You Can’t Ask That has helped, too.
Since You Can’t Ask That, I’ve seen a lot of Ellen – one of the participants with a facial difference. Our friendship is cemented by the experiences of stares and being othered, and also our love of fashion. We’ve ben recognised in the street, and it’s such a thrill. People’s responses have been so positive – they aren’t frightened at all.
A character like Dr Poison, with evil depicted with a facial difference, is the reason a child hides behind their parents when they see me. A character like Two Face is why the cleaner was scared of my face and left. A character like Freddy Kruger is the reason Ellen and I were sent violent tweets on Friday. People dress up as Scary Face for Halloween, and that’s supposedly just for a laugh.
In my lifetime I want to see a character with a facial difference be someone who puts people at ease, not instills fear. I want to see a person with a facial difference save the world, not destroy it.
If we’re going to talk about how empowering Wonder Woman was, why can’t we have a character with a facial difference that is empowering too?
Here is a list of role models with facial differences.
You need to know them.
We might not see them on the big screen, but know that the good they do triumphs any evil represented in films like Wonder Woman.
You need to know them.
Update: my friend Melissa talked about the issue of facial difference as evil in her Silver Screen Queens podcast – she said it was because I’ve taught her to notice it. Listen here.
There is is also a much more comprehensive piece on Geeky Gimp about facial difference and wider disability representation in the movie. Read that here.
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