No Time To Die, which premiered on Tuesday (28 September), is facing backlash from critics over its "lazy" and "outdated" stereotyping of people with facial scars and disfigurements.
In the new James Bond film, Bohemian Rhapsody's Rami Malek plays assassin slash villain, Safin, who hides his disfigured face under a mask for much of the movie. Viewers and campaign groups alike were disappointed by the portrayal, especially as No Time To Die was hailed as the most "socially aware film in the franchise" [via ITV].
It's not the first time a disfigurement or disability has been used to portray villainy in a James Bond film. Recurring villain Ernst Stavro Blofeld had scars across his face and was blind in one eye, while the infamous Dr Julius No had mechanical prosthetic hands. In Casino Royale, Le Chiffre's eye wept bloody tears, and Skyfall's villain, Raoul Silva had a misshapen jaw.
Speaking about the repetition of this damaging stereotype, Changing Faces, a charity supporting people across the UK with visible difference, told ITV: "This is something that our that community gets really fed up about. Going right back to children’s animation like Scar in the Lion King, baddies are always portrayed with scars and marks."
The charity continued, "It reinforces the idea that scarring or any type of difference is bad. It is time that this stops and that we start seeing some positive representation for those with visible differences. In 2021, we should be doing better."
In 2018 the charity launched the I Am Not Your Villain campaign, which called for equal representation in the film industry, and for movie producers to "stop using scars, burns, marks or other visible differences as shorthand for villainy."
As part of their campaign, Changing Faces created a short film featuring actors with facial disfigurements as iconic leading roles like the Wizard of Oz's Dorothy. As a result of the campaign, the British Film Institute stopped funding movies in which villains are portrayed with facial disfigurements.
TV presenter Adam Pearson, who featured in the I Am Not Your Villain campaign, told ITV: "When the only character with a scar or disfigurement is shown on screen as the villain, it’s perpetuating the use of an old-fashioned and outdated trope."
Pearson added, "This isn’t about banning baddies from having scars or telling people not to enjoy a trip to the cinema, it’s about putting a line in the sand and saying now is the time to ensure other characters can be seen on screen with a visible difference too."
Similarly, Robert Rhodes, who took on the role of Bond for the campaign, said: "We need to see people with visible differences as the heroes sometimes, because they are heroes. Living with a difference is tough, with the staring, comments and abuse we can get, just because of how we look."
While Rhodes encouraged moviegoers to enjoy the film after the "tough year" we've all had, he encourages people to "be aware."
"Ask yourself why this character has facial scarring? And think about the impact this film could have on someone who looks different," he said, "What would the film be like if perhaps the hero, James Bond, was the one with a visible difference?"
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