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Do We Need to Redefine Dermatologic Stereotypes in Hollywood?

Why does Dr. Evil have that giant facial scar? Does Darth Vader actually wear that mask to cover his periorbital dark circles? Hollywood villains are often depicted with skin conditions and deformities such as deep rhytides and verruca vulgaris as a way to distinguish them from the “good guys.” A new study published in JAMA has determined that 60 percent of the most famous film villains are portrayed with cosmetic abnormalities on the face and scalp, ultimately encouraging prejudice against those with skin diseases.

Researchers examined the American Film Institute’s top 10 heroes and villains in American films made before 2004. They found that 30 percent of villains with skin conditions were plagued with significant alopecia, including Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs, Mr. Potter in It’s a Wonderful Life and Darth Vader in Star Wars. Defining the bad guys with hair loss is a tradition that dates back to the early 20th century, when F.W. Murnau cast Max Schreck as a spooky and bald Count Orlok in his 1921 horror film Nosferatu. Twenty-percent of villains suffer from deep rhytides, “indicating a stormy past filled with violence,” write the researchers. Take for example Al Pacino in Scarface, Scar in The Lion King, or Regan MacNeil, the possessed child in The Exorcist, their scars reflect their violent characteristics, and ultimately make them appear intimidating.

The study also noted that scars can also be used to denote heroic characteristics. Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones and Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca are both recognized for their prominent facial scars. Red hair was another feature that both heroes and bad guys shared, as researchers point out that two villains and two heroes sport red locks.

Ultimately, we need to pay more attention to media and film who depict characters with skin conditions. The researchers agree: …”these dermatologic findings are used primarily to elucidate the dichotomy of good and evil through visual representation and may foster a tendency toward prejudice in our society directed at those with skin disease.”

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