Changing the way you view disfigurement.
Until Michelle welcomed him, did you think that Leo was sinister? The villain? A baddy? You would not be alone if you did.
In fact, years of conditioning by the films you watch will have influenced the way you view people with a disfigurement.
It is so commonplace that perhaps you do not always even notice it happening: A new character comes onto to the screen; they have a prominent scar down one side of their face – they do not have to do or say anything and yet you automatically know you have been introduced to a villain.
A recent YouGov survey also found that bad teeth, scars, burns and other conditions affecting the face are viewed as the most common indicators of an evil or villainous character in a film.
What concerns us is that this sort of visual shorthand is used without any thought as to how it might affect the lives of real people. People who are living with scars, burns, marks or conditions that affect their appearance. As part of the audience you know how to respond, with fear, horror or revulsion. The problem is that how people react in the cinema spills over into real life.
Many of the people that we have met over the past 20 years have told us how they have been called Freddie Kreuger, Elephant Man, Two Face, Scarface or Cyclops. They have had to put up with other people laughing at them, running away or reacting in disbelief that they live a ‘normal’ life.
These long-held and innacurate beliefs are completely at odds with the reality for most people with disfigurements – who are lawyers, teachers, comedians, DIY enthusiasts, parents, feisty teenagers, doting grandparents. They worry about their children, love cooking programmes, have affairs, worry about the rent, dye their hair, hate commuting – just as other characters do who are portrayed on the big screen.
We think it is time that the film industry took a more balanced approach. Why can someone with a disfigurement not play the dad collecting children from school, the learner driver, the lover or even the president?