Cinematic Representations of Facial Anomalies Across Time and Cultures

PsyArXiv Preprint:1-32 (forthcoming)
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The “scarred villain” trope, where facial differences like scars signify moral corruption, is ubiquitous in film (e.g., Batman’s The Joker). Strides by advocacy groups to undermine the trope, however, suggest cinematic representations of facial differences could be improving with time. This preregistered study characterized facial differences in film across cultures (US vs. India) and time (US: 1980-2019, India: 2000-2019). Top-grossing films by country and decade were screened for characters with facial differences. We found that the scarred villain trope has actually worsened with time, although in tandem with progress in also representing non-villainous characters with facial anomalies. Country of origin did not predict the presence of facial differences in villains or heroes. “Action” and “fantasy” movies were the most likely genres to depict villains with facial differences. Finally, villains’ facial differences crossed more facial subunits and were more likely to involve lips, chin, and mandible than when present in heroes. Our findings underscore the need for critical reflection on the role of cultural practices—even when seemingly innocuous—in shaping and maintaining negative biases against already stigmatized groups.

Author's Profile

Clifford Workman
University of Delaware


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