The new James Bond film is under fire for including villains with facial disfigurements, an age-old trope that’s been criticized as a damaging stereotype. No Time To Die stars Rami Malek as Lyutsifer Safin, a villain with facial scarring, while Christoph Waltz returns as Blofeld, a classic Bond villain with a distinctive scar over his right eye. They join a long lineage of movie villains with facial disfigurements, including Star Wars characters like Darth Sidious and Kylo Ren, and Wonder Woman’s Dr. Poison.
The charity Changing Faces has spent several years campaigning against this particular trope, publicized via the #IAmNotYourVillain hashtag. For the release of No Time To Die, they released a video asking filmmakers to rethink their use of characters with facial differences. “Living life with a disfigurement can be tough,” writes the charity’s CEO on the campaign website. “With people reporting a daily grind of staring, comments and even abuse, just because of how they look.” Films like the Bond franchise contribute to the problem by using disfigurement as a sign of villainhood.
This campaign has gained traction over the past few years, joining other demands for more inclusive representation on-screen. In 2018, Changing Faces successfully persuaded the British Film Institute to refuse funding for any new movies featuring villains with facial scarring. The campaigners highlighted the trope’s troubling impact on children, with a Changing Faces representative saying, “It’s particularly worrying to see that young people don’t tend to make this association, until they are exposed to films that influence their attitudes towards disfigurement in a profoundly negative way.”
While the Bond movies aren’t exactly for children, they’re definitely watched by younger viewers and hold an influential place in pop culture. The #IAmNotYourVillain campaigners are asking the Bond franchise producers to include more positive representation in the next movie: a hero, sidekick, or love interest. (We reached out to Universal Pictures for comment, and will update if the studio replies.)
The Bond movies are an obvious target here. In recent years, the franchise has attempted to move beyond its rather old-fashioned and sexist reputation, casting a more diverse and well-written range of roles for women. There’s also a lot of discussion about who will replace Daniel Craig: Is it finally time for Bond to be played by someone who isn’t a white man?
Facing audience pressure, the franchise’s creators are gradually moving the 007 brand into a more inclusive era of blockbuster cinema. Eliminating stereotypical villains should be an achievable step forward.
*First Published: Sep 28, 2021, 10:54 am CDT
Gavia Baker-Whitelaw is a staff writer at the Daily Dot, covering geek culture and fandom. Specializing in sci-fi movies and superheroes, she also appears as a film and TV critic on BBC radio. Elsewhere, she co-hosts the pop culture podcast Overinvested. Follow her on Twitter: @Hello_Tailor