A Cork man living with a facial difference has voiced his frustration at the film industry’s continued use of visible difference as shorthand for villainy.
Tom Hickey, aged in his 60s from Ballincollig, has lived with a facial difference most of his life after he accidentally set himself on fire at the age of two.
Mr Hickey, who documents his life and his experience of living with a facial difference on his blog Hickey’s World, has called on those in the film industry to be more mindful of how they depict visible difference.
“Some of the really major franchises or films that have been hugely popular with the public tend to show villains with disfigurements.
“It’s a trope and unfortunately it’s easy for filmmakers to follow that path.
“If you’re a non-disfigured person, you don’t see the issues as you would if you are,” Mr Hickey, a former Irish Examiner sub-editor, said.
“When you depict people with disfigurements as villains or evil in some way, well then you’re building up a psychological impact on people and they may assume that because someone has a disfigurement that they too are evil.”
His comments follow the world premiere of the new James Bond film, No Time to Die – a franchise with a long history of linking visible difference with evil.
“When I was younger I used to go to the Bond films, Dr No and Thunderball, films like that. I think that because I went to them and because I myself am facially disfigured it had a greater impact on me.
“I don’t think people understood the powerful, subconscious effect it was having,” Mr Hickey told The Echo.
In addition to Bond films, examples abound of the negative depiction of visible difference from Darth Vader in Star Wars to Scar in The Lion King and beyond.
“It creates an environment where children, if they see these films, they grow up possibly linking villains with disfigurement so therefore when they see us they assume that we’re fair game, that we’re easy targets,” Mr Hickey said, speaking about the impact of the trope.
Growing up Mr Hickey said there was a lack of awareness about visible difference.
“There was no education for younger people in schools, you didn’t see articles about disfigured people in newspapers etc, and so if you ever saw one, I assume people just recoiled.
“I know in my own case when I came out of hospital, I was two when it [the accident] happened, but when I came out when I was nearly five, there was a very sharp reaction to me.
“My mother said we used to be followed by boys who were jeering at me.
“Nowadays, groups like Changing Faces are leading campaigns to create more awareness that just because you’re disfigured doesn’t mean you’re a bad person – you’re just as human as everyone else and you’re just trying to lead a life like anyone else’s and connect with people.”
Mr Hickey has lauded Changing Faces, a UK charity campaigning to end discrimination against people with visible differences, for their latest campaign ‘I Am Not Your Villain: Equal representation of visible difference in film’.
The campaign has been backed by the British Film Institute (BFI) which has committed to stop funding films in which negative characteristics are depicted through scars or facial difference.
Mr Hickey has said he would like others in the industry to take note.
“In Ireland, I think we could take a stand there – it would send a very strong message. The American film industry is one of the biggest offenders, they should also follow suit,” he said.
“I think we’re living in an age where diversity should be accepted.”