• Tanweer Dar

Mental Illness and Physical Deformity in Film

As a lover of film, and the horror genre in particular, I have come to realise that despite the progress that has been made in some areas (such as the treatment of ethnic minorities or people of different sexualities), other things haven't come very far at all.

In fact, even in 2021, it is still abundantly clear that mental illness and physical deformity can be presented in much the same way that they have been for a hundred years. Murderous villains and megalomaniacs still emerge from insane asylums sporting facial disfigurements.

Why this is the case, despite all of the progress that has been made with regards to mental health and body positivity in recent times, genuinely perplexes me. Moreover, it troubles me. Why do so many still see mental illness and physical deformity as villainous traits?

Part of me hopes it is purely for some sort of shock value, but even that is deeply troubling - that people are still shocked enough by either mental or physical disabilities or abnormalities for them to be used as such devices. It is more likely that the continued portrayal of mental illness and facial disfigurement in particular as nefarious traits is due to downright laziness.

In the real world, the threat of homelessness, emotional abuse and men in suits holding your life in debt is significantly more frightening than someone with a face that looks a little different to most people's. Perhaps scriptwriters and directors could do more to use these as plot devices?

There will of course be those that argue that it's all just a bit of harmless fun and I'm reading too much into it. They may or may not be right. But whereas other characteristics have become protected, some of the most vulnerable people in the world are still being used as what are effectively the modern equivalent of circus freaks. That just doesn't sit right with me. If nothing else, it perpetuates stigma. And as I said quite unequivocally in my last blog post, it's time to end the stigma.

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