Dear creatives – it’s time to actually get creative with your characters

Did you read about the backlash over the new ‘The Witches’ film?

To put it simply, Anne Hathaway’s ‘The Grand High Witch’, a character that is supposed to scare the audience, was given claw-like hands with missing fingers. This characterisation was not in the book or the original film and was a detail added by the current studio. Of course, this decision faced backlash from disability and inclusion campaigners around the world.

And to be honest, quite rightly so.

I know that these days everyone accuses everyone else of being offended about something, but in a world that is begging to be more inclusive, why is it that when writing, casting or costume designing, those making the choices always use visible differences to mark someone as a ‘baddie’ or someone to be afraid of?

As someone with a facial birthmark, I can’t tell you how tiring it is to see this narrative being recycled over and over again. It feels like the baddie always has a scar, the horror film murderer is always disfigured… really? Can the only thing an actor or actress with a physical difference aspire to be is someone designed to horrify the audience?

In real life, some of the meanest, scariest people have been conventionally attractive. Beauty can be a mask that allows people to slip under the radar to do the cruellest things. Think back to your own time at school and the popular/bullying gangs – were any of them unattractive? Most of the time, no… so why do we write our ‘baddie’ characters like this?

In some ways I don’t think film studios or writers realise how damaging what they are doing is when they create these characters, but as someone who has a facial difference I can tell you it IS damaging.

From birth, I was aware that I looked a little different to everyone else, but only as I grew older was I told that that was a bad thing. The names people felt they could call me, the stares, the sniggers, the comments from strangers… at times it was tough.

Sometimes I wonder would they have happened at all if my difference hadn’t been demonised by the media and society, but celebrated instead.

As someone with a visible difference, all I can say is that the world doesn’t need to be repeatedly told that difference is unattractive, that you are something to stare at or be fearful of. What it needs is the narrative that beauty comes in many different forms.

I implore creatives to stop being lazy when it comes to creating baddies or ‘freaks’ or horror characters. Stop relying on old stereotypes that do so much more damage than you realise. Be the creative that you say you are and think outside of the box.

A birthmarked loved interest? A disabled heroine? I’d watch it. Wouldn’t you?

For more from me, why not follow me on Instagram at @jesskitchingwrites?

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