No More Ugly Villains!

10 May 2017 by , 1 Comment


What’s the first thing you think when an albino character appears in a movie? I bet it’s “Ew, what a creep! He’s got to be a villain!” And you’d usually be right. From Harry Potter’s Voldemort to the killer twins in The Matrix to The DaVinci Code’s psycho killer, albinism has been used as a way to make a villain seem especially wicked by making them even more “other” and frightening.

It’s not just albinism that is used this way, of course. Anything that deviates from what society considers to be the “norm” or “attractive” has been used to make fictional characters extra creepy. Obesity, homosexuality, excessive height, dwarfism, or any other disability or deformity have all been used as a way to say “Be really afraid of this character!” (Which isn’t to say these things are “ugly.” They are nothing more than different physical aspects of people that some people chose to think of as being unattractive.)

Enough already! Physical unattractiveness does not equal evil and beauty does not equal good despite what Lord of the Rings would have us believe. (Almost everything in Mordor is incredibly ugly and usually dark-skinned, which touches on the whole issue of racism in LOTR. Yeah, yeah, J.R.R. Tolkien was a creature of his time, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t discuss it today.)

It’s not just movies that do this, of course. Television, theater, and, of course, books have all relied on this visual shortcut to communicate a villain’s malformed character.

Am I saying that people with albinism can’t be villains? Of course not. But I would ask the question, how come they are almost never the good guys, much less the actual hero? (Tyrion on Game of Thrones is a noteworthy character for little people for a good reason. He might not be a hero exactly, but he’s a complicated character and a fan favorite as opposed to comic relief or the embodiment of evil that people love to hate that, which is the usual fate for people who aren’t “normal.”)

The problem isn’t just that writers use albinism and homosexuality as a way to make their characters distinctive. The problem is that these traits are almost never used to make the heroes more distinctive. Imagine if Indiana Jones had been an albino or Captain Kirk was an effeminate gay man or one of the wizards in Lord of the Rings had been a black man (and some of the orcs white!).

The fact that all of those ideas seem so laughable just proves how marginalized those two groups of people still are. And how far we still we have to go.

I recently watched Snowpiercer starring Chris Evans. While Chris was rather scruffy, he was still smoking hot because, well, he’s Chris Evans. Of course he was also the movie’s hero (if a reluctant one). Meanwhile, the oddest looking person was Tilda Swinton’s character who had buckteeth and a huge nose. Can you guess if she was good or bad? She was bad, naturally. Very, very bad, which probably made it easier for the writer/director to communicate her inherent immorality.

Yes, yes, I know that when it comes to art, and especially movies, most people like to watch or read about good-looking people. Which means the protagonists are almost always incredibly handsome or beautiful. But I think in 2014 it’s wrong for artists to fall back on the tired old tropes that beauty equals good and evil equals bad. I want to be better than that and I promise you that I’ll never have an albino villain in any of my books.

One Response to “No More Ugly Villains!”

  1. JemGirl 27 June 2017 at 4:32 am #

    Ok, as with everything there are exceptions and I know that you are aware of that. It’s just that I was thinking of ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’ when you were going through your list. Granted he wasn’t ‘the’ hero, but he wasn’t the villain either.

    I didn’t think that the albino from “The DaVinci Code’s” was ugly, very misguided and even tricked if not used, to be the bad guy, but I never thought he was ugly. Granted, I like the actor himself, so I may be a bit bias.

    TV which has a smaller budget and more willing to change how a few things are done, don’t seem to have many shows these days, if they ever really did, have an ‘ugly’ person as the bad guy.

    The offenders, as you have noted, are the movies. They have a wider audience that they want to attract and so they play things very safe to make the biggest return on the millions and millions they used for their movies. Personally, I think they should cut down and the amount they are cranking out to give a movie time to get the amount of viewings it really would need to know how it was received instead of being picked over because the public had to pick between 5 movies to watch on that week of not longer.

    But I’m getting off track.

    They, movie makers, on the whole, won’t turn away from the ‘tried and true’ formula of having the good looking leads until there is a strong push back. And we aren’t there yet. In fact, I don’t think we will get there for a while. But, that doesn’t mean that all movies will use this ‘beauty equals good and evil equals bad’ thing. Everyone was good looking in ‘The Huntsman’. ‘Powder’ had an albino who was the lead. I am aware that lead doesn’t mean hero.

    Just that the mold has been ignored for some movies before. It’s being ignored now for some movies and we can only hope that it’s ignored even more in the future.

    So I’m agreeing with you mostly. Also, once a ‘good looking’ person is revealed as the bad guy, I don’t see their ‘beauty’ anymore.

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