Thought-provoking documentary highlights prejudice in film-making

Take a look at this “Oscar” worthy one minute, thought-provoking documentary titled “Leo.”

It causes each of us to think about the way we form opinions of others based solely on their physical appearance. “Downton Abbey” star, Michelle Dockery stars in this powerful film funded and developed for Changing Faces’ Campaign for Facial Equality.

Please share the “Leo” film with friends, family, colleagues, media representatives, healthcare professionals, educators, and everyone you know.

Changing Faces is the preeminent British charity representing children, young people and adults who have disfigurements to the face, hands or body. In 2008, Changing Faces launched the Face Equality campaign, which aims to ensure that people with disfigurement are treated without prejudice or discrimination. The campaign targets employers, schools, health care professionals, the media, policy makers and the general public, and has used posters featuring adults and children with facial disfigurement that have appeared on the London Underground and across England.

Research indicates that the media continues to perpetuate myths associated with disfigurement in movies, advertisements and television. People with visible scars are inaccurately associated with deviant or undesirable behavior.

“Children are influenced by the negative attitudes toward people with facial and physical differences that pervade children’s literature and contemporary media” (International, 2002). It’s irrelevant whether the characters portrayed in films are fictional or real if their disfigurement is associated with evil or villainous behavior.

During the last few years, encouraging examples of casting “disfigured” individuals in a positive light have appeared on U.S. television programs.

In October 2008, Iraqi War veteran and burn survivor, J.R. Martinez, was cast as combat veteran Brot Monroe on the Daytime Emmy Award-winning drama “All My Children.”

Last year, J.R. dazzled millions week after week with his drive and determination to win “Dancing With The Stars.” The public embraced and voted for him and his partner, Katrina, despite his disfigurement. His wit, enthusiasm and charm shone through his scars. J.R. was invited to be the 2012 Grand Marshal of the Tournament of Roses Parade, and has appeared on many of the most popular talk shows in America, including “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” “The TODAY Show,” and “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.”

Legendary producer Dick Clark suffered a significant stroke in 2004 that caused partial facial paralysis, yet, when his health permitted, he appeared on “New Year’s Rockin’ Eve,” which he created in 1975. His final appearance was in 2011. Sadly, Dick Clark died of a massive heart attack April 18.

It is significant to note that many older, acclaimed American journalists and actors remain on primetime television shows and in movies despite their aging appearance, especially those who have not undergone plastic surgery to disguise their true age. This demonstrates an evolving tolerance for something other than youthful, exuberant beauty.

These few examples offer a glimmer of hope that someday individuals who have disfiguring conditions may be cast in positive roles by television or movie producers.

In 2007, 2,500 movies were produced internationally; 453 movies were made in America. To my knowledge, none of the American movies produced before or after 2007 featured an individual with a facial disfigurement in a positive light. Please let me know if you are aware of positive portrayals in films that I may not be aware of, or have overlooked.

Clearly, there is a need for this sort of advocacy. Together, we can unite our voices to seek change now, not decades from now. Those of you who have the privilege of appearing before the public on television and in the movies can aid this movement by including qualified, talented individuals with disfiguring conditions on programs and in films. Increased exposure to individuals with disfiguring conditions will educate
the public and ultimately foster acceptance of facial and physical differences.

If you think that it’s time for change and want to help with Changing Face’s campaign, then you can sign their petition to end harmful portrayals on the big screen here.

“Meet the stars of a new CBBC documentary.” The Guardian. 5 March 2010.
What did you think was going to happen?