By Saffron Dale
As the 25th Bond film, ‘No Time to Die’, premieres in cinemas, grossing more than any other Bond film in history, the film nevertheless faces backlash. Instead of backlash regarding the racism and misogyny frequently found in Bond, the film is now in trouble for its failure to represent disability and facial disfigurement. Again, another Bond villain, this time Rami Malek’s character Safin, displays facial scarring. Safin joins the long list of Bond villains who are disfigured, some of which include Emilio Largo in ‘Thunderball’ and Alec Trevelyan in ‘Golden Eye’. As a result, the charity ‘Changing Faces’, supporting those with visible differences, has called on Bond producers to discontinue the outdated disfigurement-villainy trope. So, why is it so damaging to those with visible differences and society?
For those with visible differences, the idea that disfigurement is tied to moral deficit is something they are likely to have grown up with. In films like ‘The Lion King’, the villain, Scar, has a noticeable facial disfigurement, not to mention his character is literally named after the deformity. Therefore, from an early age those with visible differences feel misrepresented as the ‘baddie’ across the arts. Research carried out by Savanta ComRes found that only one in five of those with visible differences have seen a character who looks like them cast as a hero in film. As a self-professed film junkie, I can’t even think of a hero with facial disfigurement. This is detrimental, not only for the self-esteem of those which disability affects, but to the general public who are fed negative representations of those with disfigurements. Despite that in reality, the disfigurement-villainy trope is constantly disproved, the trope doesn’t help to normalise disfigurement. Instead, the trope distances viewers from the lived reality of disfigurement, depicting it as something that affects one’s moral character for the worse.
Having said that, the new ‘No Time to Die’ has improved in matters of race and misogyny. For instance, Lashana Lynch plays the first black female 007 spy in the franchise and the typical misogyny that we often see in Bond films only makes rare occurrences. These occurrences mostly consist of the lack of personality displayed by the female love interest, Madeleine Swann. Yet, the film is extremely backward regarding its attitude towards disfigurement and disability. Producer, Michael G. Wilson, comments that the use of facial disfigurement in Bond villains is “very much a Fleming device…that physical deformity and personal deformity goes hand in hand… a motivating factor in their life, and what makes them the way they are.” Yet, why don’t Bond producers ever view physical deformity as a personal strength rather than a personal weakness. Instead of recycling the old-fashioned idea that facial disfigurement affects one’s moral character, why can’t it instead shape a character’s story arc in a positive way? Ironically, James Bond in the Ian Fleming novels is described as having a long, thin vertical scar on his cheek. Yet, if scars are a good storytelling device, why doesn’t the film Bond have one?
As opposed to depicting the mental strength and virtuous character that often defines those with visible differences, Bond producers time and time again decide to use disfigurement as an indicator of moral deficit. More than this, at least if there’s going to be a disfigured ‘baddie’, an actor with an actual disfigurement could play them. A disfigured actor is better equipped to display the torment and suffering that results from disfigurement and the discrimination that inevitably comes with it. There are so many problems with Bond’s use of the harmful trope, not limited to the fact that the Bond franchise can be classed as a British institution. The franchise plays a huge role in both the shaping and representing of British culture through cinematic means. Therefore, its decision to make yet another villain disfigured makes a huge statement to the British public regarding the way we perceive and characterise disfigurement.
Unfortunately, it’s not enough for Bond producers and directors to argue any longer that disfigurement acts as a good storyline for villains. Alternatively, action needs to be taken to positively represent disfigurement by a film franchise that is so widely influential in shaping public perception.