You probably haven’t thought about it much before, but on the big screen, baddies are often depicted with skin conditions and traits – warts, bulbous noses, dark circles under their eyes, even albinism and alopecia – as an effective way to immediately indicate their villainy.
A team of US dermatologists say that depicting characters with dubious morals as having these skin conditions is damaging to people who actually suffer from them by negative association, and Hollywood needs to update its thinking.
In their study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Dermatology, researchers looked at the all-time top 10 heroes and villains from the American Film Institute’s (AFI) "100 Greatest Heroes and Villains List" to evaluate dermatological traits and the frequency with which they appear.
Their findings showed that skin conditions appeared significantly more frequently in villains than heroes. They found six out of the top 10 villains had some form of dermatologic condition, while only two of the heroes did, and they were incidental and not part of the character.
"The results of this study demonstrate Hollywood's tendency to depict skin disease in an evil context, the implications of which extend beyond the theater,” the authors write in their study. “Specifically, unfairly targeting dermatologic minorities may contribute to a tendency toward prejudice in our culture and facilitate misunderstanding of particular disease entities among the general public."
The researchers identified six traits repeatedly depicted in the top 10 villains: alopecia (hair loss), rhinophyma (bulbous nose), periorbital hyperpigmentation (dark circles under the eyes), facial verruca vulgaris (warts), deep facial rhytides (wrinkles), and multiple facial scars.
American Film Institute/Julie Amthor Croley et al