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The Face of Evil

Although we all know the devil has blue eyes and blue jeans, the biggest pop culture franchises still portray the villain as ugly, and often use dermatological conditions to do so. This is a shortcut to make it easy for the audience to identify and to dislike the villain. But what are the consequences? A study in JAMA Dermatology found that of the top ten villains (as compiled by the American Film Institute), 60% displayed diagnosable dermatological conditions, while none of the top ten heroes did. Not surprising, but a breakdown of the different characters and conditions is quite informative. Take albinism and hypopigmentation, for example:

The “evil albino” trope likely precedes film and may have multiple cultural sources, dating back to Neolithic Eastern European culture, in which death is depicted in art as a fair woman with light hair.5 European folklore, rich with vampires and pallid undead creatures, may have also influenced the stereotype, as well as African attitudes toward people with albinism as being cursed or magical.6 The albinism bias was adopted early in film history and pervades modern cinema. The 1960s saw an explosive increase in film villains with albinism. During this period, tanned skin was considered healthy and glamorous.7 What better way to identify an abnormal character then one who can’t tan at all? From 1960 to 2006, there were a total of 68 films featuring the “evil albino” stereotype.8 Typical depictions include characters with albinism that act as assassins, are scary, have silly nicknames, dress entirely in white, and/or have health problems beyond their albinism.7 Several advocacy groups for people with albinism have responded to depictions of albinism in film with protest. Notably, NOAH works to counter negative and frequently inaccurate depictions of albinism in film.9 Although albinism is not present among the AFI top 10 villains, gray-hued complexions and other abnormal skin colors are prominent, as seen in both Darth Vader in The Empire Strikes Back and Regan MacNeil in The Exorcist (1974).

The upshot is that dermatological conditions are not an indication of evil in the general populace, and these portrayals may contribute to discrimination for those who suffer from them. Interestingly, the study looked at red hair, too, and found that it occurs in both top heroes and top villains at the same rate, although a much higher rate than the general population. Read the report of the research here. The reference articles are interesting, too. -via TYWKIWDBI


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