British Film Institute Will No Longer Fund Movie With Villains With Scars

From The Dark Knight's Joker to A Nightmare on Elm Street's Freddy Kreuger to Star Wars' Darth Vader to even The Lion King's Scar, many films feature villains whose defining feature is a facial or physical difference, such as scars. But the use of facial scars for villains is something that one organization is hoping to come to an end.

The British Film Institute, an organization that is dedicated to supporting and funding British-made films, has announced that it will no longer fund films featuring facially scarred villains. According to The Telegraph, the BFI is backing the #IAmNotYourVillain campaign from Changing Faces, a British charity that provides "advice, support and psychosocial services to children, young people and adults" living with marks, scars or conditions that contribute to a visible difference. In supporting the campaign, the BFI is hoping to help remove the stigma of facial disfigurement and sees film as a great place for change.

“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,” Ben Roberts, the BFI’s deputy CEO, said in a statement. "It’s astonishing to think that films have used visible difference as a shorthand for villainy so often and for so long. The time has come for this to stop."

"The BFI believes that film should be truly representative of the UK, and this campaign speaks directly to the criteria in the BFI Diversity Standards which call for meaningful representations on screen. We fully support Changing Faces’ I Am Not Your Villain campaign and urge the rest of the film industry to do the same.”

And while the campaign is centered around the idea of people with physical and facial differences being disproportionately portrayed as villains, there are other issues around how disfiguration is portrayed. The upcoming film Mortal Engines has prompted a bit of controversy in how it's portraying the facial scarring of its heroine, Hester Shaw.

In the Mortal Engines book series by Philip Reeve, Hester is described has having a severe and prominent scar on her face, specifically "her mouth was wrenched sideways in a permanent sneer, her nose was a smashed stump, and her single eye stared at him out of the wreckage, as grey and chill as a winter sea.” However, in trailers for the film the scar is considerably less prominent -- her facial features -- specifically her nose and eyes -- are largely intact save for fairly superficial damage to her skin. The "toned down" disfigurement is so drastic that fans on Reddit have pointed out how problematic it is, prompting a response from director Christian Rivers noting that Hester's scar had to be toned down to make it believable that she and another character could fall in love -- a comment that some fans think get to the heart of the discussion around scars and disfigurement.

“It’s fine in the book for Hester to be described to be ugly, hideous, and have lost a nose ‘cause, even that, you reimagine it in your own mind as, ‘Okay, yeah, she’s ugly, but she’s not really ugly,'” Rivers told Entertainment Weekly. “Tom falls in love with her… and film is a visual medium. With a book you can take what you want and reimagine it in your head and put together your own picture. But when you put it on film, you are literalizing it. You are making it a literal thing, so it was just finding a balance where we need to believe that Tom and Hester fall in love. And her scar does need to be disfiguring enough that she thinks she’s ugly — it can’t just be a little scratch — and I think we’ve struck a good balance of it.”

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Regarding their commitment to the campaign, the BFI is already putting its money where its mouth is, so to speak. The BFI film fund has given its financial backing to an upcoming film, Dirty God, which will follow the story of a London woman attempting to rebuild her life after an acid attack starring new actress Vicky Knight -- herself a burn survivor -- in the feature role.

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