By Digital Presenter and Producer Mojo Abidi
No Time To Die has been branded "lazy" and "outdated" by those with facial disfigurements for featuring a villain with scars.
The latest Bond film, which premieres at the Royal Albert Hall on Tuesday, features Rami Malek as the mysterious assassin Safin, who hides his disfigured face under a mask.
The movie is said to be the most socially aware film in the franchise yet with viewers promised strong female characters, including Actor Lashana Lynch who makes history as the first black 007 when her character inherits the title, but people with visible differences say they feel they have been left behind, and criticised the choice of villain.
The Bond films are well-known for using disfigurements and disability as a trope for villainy.
In 2012’s Skyfall Raoul Silva had a misshapen jaw and missing teeth, while in 2006’s Casino Royale, Le Chiffre’s damaged eye bled bloody tears. In 1962 Dr Julius No had his missing hands replaced by mechanical prosthetics.
"When the only character with a scar or disfigurement is shown on screen as the villain, it’s perpetuating the use of an old-fashioned and outdated trope," said presenter Adam Pearson.
Pearson, who has neurofibromatosis - a disorder that causes tumours to form on nerve tissue - believes there is no reason why someone with a visible difference can’t play the love interest or the hero.
"This isn’t about banning baddies from having scars or telling people not to enjoy a trip to the cinema, it’s about putting a line in the sand and saying now is the time to ensure other characters can be seen on screen with a visible difference too," he added.
In an interview with Total Film magazine, Malek told fans this aspect of his character was "important to have".
He said: "We didn’t pick a mask off a wall willy-nilly. We had to think extremely specifically as to what would make the most sense. If it doesn’t make sense to the story and to the character, then arguably it loses impact."
But actor Robert Rhodes, who has facial scarring, told ITV News people carry those connotations into real life: "Films like this put fuel in the bullies' fire. When I was at primary school, there was a picture circulated around to bully me.
"I didn’t know who it was at the time but it was a picture of the Chucky doll with all the scarring and someone had written my name underneath it.
"When I found out the character was a vicious murderer, I was very confused and hurt. Did that mean I was going to grow up to be evil and bad?"
Rhodes said it took years to learn he could forge his own path in life, and he believes more positive representation in the film industry could have helped.
"We need to see people with visible differences as the heroes sometimes, because they are heroes. Living with a difference is tough, with the staring, comments and abuse we can get, just because of how we look," he added.
There have been moves in the film industry towards ending discrimination against people with scars, burns or marks.
The British Film Institute stopped funding movies in which villains appear with facial disfigurements after a 2018 campaign by Changing Faces called I Am Not Your Villain.
The charity supports people across the UK with visible differences and told ITV News this "lazy stereotype" needs to end.
A spokesperson said: "This is something that our that community gets really fed up about. Going right back to children’s animation like Scar in the Lion King, baddies are always portrayed with scars and marks.
"It reinforces the idea that scarring or any type of difference is bad.
"It is time that this stops and that we start seeing some positive representation for those with visible differences. In 2021, we should be doing better."
Research by the charity found people with disfigurements suffer long term impacts from not seeing people who look like them represented across popular culture.
A third have low levels of confidence (34%) and three in ten have struggled with body image (31%). A quarter (24%) say it has affected their mental health.
Changing Faces say they want to see a positive character with a scar or mark in the next Bond film.
To any No Time To Die moviegoers, Rhodes had this message: “We have all had a tough year, so go to the cinema and enjoy the film - buy some popcorn and really treat yourself.
“But when you go in, go in and be aware. Ask yourself why this character has facial scarring? And think about the impact this film could have on someone who looks different.
“What would the film be like if perhaps the hero, James Bond, was the one with a visible difference?"
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