The British Film Institute (BFI) announced on Friday that the organization will no longer be funding films that feature villains with facial scars and disfigurements. The BFI’s Director of Lottery Film Fund, Ben Roberts, announced this position in a statement regarding this new decision:
“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.”
“This campaign speaks directly to the criteria in the BFI diversity standards, which call for meaningful representations on screen. We fully support Changing Faces’s #IAmNotYourVillain campaign, and urge the rest of the film industry to do the same.”
Changing Faces is a United Kingdom-based charity organization that offers advice, support, and psychosocial services to approximately 1.3 million people suffering from a visible difference, such as a scar, mark, or medical condition. They also released a video alongside this campaign to explain their goals in more detail:
The BFI, in addition to archiving and preserving UK films and television, is also responsible for distributing grant funds to movie projects. The organization receives some funds from the UK-franchised National Lottery and provides these funds to a wide range of film projects, such as Under the Skin, High Rise and The Girl with All the Gifts. Projects seeking funding from the BFI must submit an application and be selected personally by the BFI before receiving funds.
Becky Hewitt, the CEO of Changing Faces, also added:
“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.”
The use of facial scarring has been used throughout fiction as a visual indicator that a character is a ‘bad guy.’ Scars often act as a visual reference that can quickly inform a viewer that a character may possess attributes such as being tough, wild, or prone to violence or danger. However, while there are many instances of villains being scarred or disfigured, their villainy is not based on the existence of their scar.
Villains such as Scar (The Lion King), the Joker (The Dark Knight), or the titular Phantom (Phantom of the Opera) are evil not because of their scarring, but because of their actions and personalities. These characters are motivated by greed and power, wish to inflict harm and chaos, or force their will upon others out of selfishness. These characters’ own actions are what causes them to be labelled as villains, not their physical traits.
While scarring has been a common trait for many villains, there have been many protagonists who also suffer from facial abnormalities. Characters such as Deadpool, Harry Potter, and even Thor in Avengers: Infinity War sport significant scars as they heroically attempt to save the world. The scars did not indicate a switch in demeanor, morality, or actions. The character’s personality was informed by his actions, with the scarring again being nothing more than a visual attribute. In fact, one could argue that a heroic character such as Deadpool received more negative attention and reception to his scars than a villainous character would have, as seen specifically during the bar scene featured in the original Deadpool film:
It is undoubtedly important to combat the stigma and ridicule directed towards those with facial scarring, as for many their conditions could have a negative impact on their mental or physical well-being. Yet a blanket policy of banning characters because of perceived optics could have a widespread negative effect on UK film makers. Instead of following through with their own artistic visions, many film makers could possibly see their ideas or characters being altered and changed in order to comply with the BFI’s new ruling in an attempt to secure funding that would otherwise prevent the creation and release of a given film.