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Netflix, Prime, BBC and Other Streamers Urged to Include Disclaimer on Horror Films Featuring Villains With Visible Differences

Charity Changing Faces has written to the chief content officers at a range of streamers and broadcasters such as Netflix U.K., Amazon Prime Video, BBC IPlayer and Apple TV urging them to include a disclaimer on their horror films featuring villains with visible differences this Halloween.

Penned by Changing Faces CEO Heather Blake, the letter says: “Every year, Halloween becomes a particularly stressful time for some of those with visible differences, where villainous film characters with scars, marks, burns or conditions are often recreated as costumes, as well as becoming terms of abuse in everyday life.”

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She adds that the charity is not asking for the streaming platforms to remove horror films featuring villains with visible differences but to include a note in the film’s description and add a disclaimer on screen that such characters “reinforce negative stereotypes.”

“Sex Education” actor Beth Bradfield, who was born with a hemangioma which she had removed as a baby, leaving facial scarring, is supporting 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,” Bradfield said.

“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.”

Changing Faces gave the example of one of their campaigners, Chris, who was born with a large birthmark on his face and has been impacted by films like “The Omen,” in which the character of Damien is marked out as the Antichrist due to a birthmark on his scalp.

“Horror films such as ‘The Omen’ undoubtedly reinforce associations between visible differences and wrongdoing or tragic unfulfillment,” Chris said. “Similarly, other Changing Faces campaigners and ambassadors have reported being mockingly compared to characters such as Joker or Freddie Krueger.”

Read the full letter below:

Dear Chief Content Officer,

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

Harmful beliefs that scars and marks equate to evil can be reinforced through instant access to decades of archived content without explanation of the impact and undoubtedly contribute to othering and abuse of those with visible differences.

The charity Changing Faces has been raising awareness of this issue with the ‘I Am Not Your Villain’ campaign, most recently following the release of the latest James Bond film in 2021.

In an age of content overload, it has never been easier to access these old-fashioned stereotypes that run the risk of influencing younger generations and continue to affect how those with visible differences are perceived.

We are not asking for these films to be removed from your platform. However, we are keen to share advice on how more information and context could be added to your platform to help raise awareness of the issue among your subscribers.

Please consider helping us raise awareness of the ‘I Am Not Your Villain’ campaign by reviewing our asks that are being shared in good faith to support the industry in moving forwards. We ask that you:

  1. Consider updating individual film listings information within streaming platforms to include a description in the copy that highlights that the film reinforces negative stereotypes 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 contains harmful stereotypes that reinforce 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, highlighting the charity’s website changingfaces.org.uk.

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