Providing support and promoting respect for everyone with a visible difference

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Dear Streaming Platforms, consider how visible differences are portrayed in the films you show this Halloween

This Halloween, we’ve launched a campaign that highlights the reductive tropes in films that ‘contribute to othering and abuse’ in the everyday lives of those with visible differences.

This autumn, dozens of horror films portraying evil characters as having visible differences and spanning 1970s-present day are scheduled to appear across streaming platforms including Netflix, Amazon Prime, Apple TV, Disney+, HBO Max, BBC Iplayer, All4 and ITVX.

With the support of our campaigners and the wider visible difference community, we have contacted content officers at these streaming platforms with a number of asks:

  1. Consider updating individual film listings information to include a description in the copy that highlights the film contains negative portrayal of those with visible differences, with a link to the “I Am Not Your Villain” campaign.
  2. Consider integrating an on-screen caveat before the film plays that highlights the film does contain harmful tropes that portray negative perceptions of those with visible differences.
  3. Consider signposting to support for those affected or seeking more information about the experiences of those with visible differences at the end of the film, pointing to the Changing Faces website.

Through this, we hope to raise awareness of the issue, where harmful beliefs can be reinforced through instant access to decades of archived content without explanation of the impact.

Halloween is a particularly stressful time for some people with visible differences, where villainous characters with scars, marks, burns or conditions are often recreated as costumes, as well as becoming terms of abuse in everyday life.

Actor, Beth Bradfield, who was born with a hemangioma, which was surgically removed when she was a baby, resulting in facial scarring, has spoken out in support of the campaign: “While I’ve been involved in best-practice and inclusive shows within the TV and film industry, I am an advocate for positive representation of those with visible differences. The industry is progressing, but there is still a long way to go.

“It’s so important that the film industry talks about the impact of harmful tropes of films of the past while making way for new and exciting stories that normalise those with visible differences on screen as real people with real stories to tell.”

Entertainment union Bectu, with more than 40,000 members working in TV and film, has also backed the campaign.

Heather Blake, Changing Faces Chief Executive, says: “We know that Halloween can be an anxious time for those with visible differences.

“The film industry plays a role in this by reinforcing old-fashioned and harmful stereotypes. These carry through to everyday life for those with visible differences in ways that can have a lasting impact.

“Streaming platforms can help raise awareness and move the industry forward by acknowledging these film stereotypes, for example, adding a caveat to content that explains that these are present and harmful to those with visible differences.”

Campaigner Chris, who has a birthmark on the left side of his face, a nevus flammeus more commonly known as a “port wine stain”, says: “From as long as I can remember I have felt ambivalent about Halloween: happy at the collective opportunity for creative self-expression but unable to feel unadulterated pleasure in the festivities.

“As a kid I remember worrying over questions like “What if someone thinks my birthmark is part of my costume?” and “What if I get complimented for the authenticity of my make-up?” One Halloween I toyed with the idea of ironically appropriating a “Phantom of the Opera” mask to cover my birthmark, but on reflection the gesture didn’t sit right with me. For the sake of a private joke, I realised I’d be publicly reasserting the false correlation between evil and condition.

“While I’m lucky to have only limited experience of invasive comments and stares, I have received remarks that reflect the unpleasant impact of internalised cinematic tropes. Aged 16, for example, I took a holiday job as a cleaner at my local hospital. It was my first experience of work and minutes into my first shift one of my co-workers made the sign of a cross with their fingers at me as we passed each other in a corridor, as though warding off the evil they associated with my mark of difference.

“As my experience shows, horror films such as The Omen (1976), whose protagonist Damien is born with a birthmark on his scalp marking him out as the Antichrist, undoubtedly reinforce associations between visible differences and wrongdoing or tragic unfulfillment. Similarly, other Changing Faces campaigners and ambassadors have reported being mockingly compared to characters such as “Joker” or “Freddie Krueger”.”

We urge anyone with a visible difference who is affected by these negative stereotypes at Halloween to get in touch with us for support.

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