American Sniper

Based on Chris Kyle’s autobiography of the same name, American Sniper encompasses several depictions of injury and disability sustained during the Iraq war, not the least of which is the Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder of Navy SEAL and sniper Chris Kyle himself. Once back stateside, Kyle encountered a former soldier and amputee whose life he had saved, who thanked him but–possibly recognizing some signs of PTSD–strongly urged Kyle to join them down at the VA. After an incident where he nearly kills a dog at a barbecue, Kyle decides to do just that. The VA doctor tells him that there are plenty of men who still need saving right here at home, and introduces Kyle to some of the wounded warriors still in recovery there.

Kyle begins taking the men out shooting “to get their balls back”, and the resulting discussion inevitably turns to how they acquired their injuries. In a memorable scene, one soldier credits his smoking habit with saving his right hand; he had been reaching for a cigarette when the IED hit, just far away enough from the blast that took away his legs and left hand. The soldier, Specialist Bryan Anderson, and his story were the genuine article, urged by star Bradley Cooper to tell his story candidly.

Another soldier Kyle visits is his buddy Ryan “Biggles” Job, wounded and blinded when he was shot in the face. Biggles is depicted as having died on the operating table shortly after his injuries and asking his girlfriend to marry him. In real life, Job was blinded in battle in 2006 when an enemy sniper’s bullet struck his rifle, sending pieces of the shattered weapon through his face. He survived much longer than he does in the movie. He was discharged from the military, got married, attended college, got a job, and climbed Mount Rainier and Mount Hood. Job died in 2009 from complications after going back for more facial reconstructive surgery while his wife was pregnant with their first child.

Love Never Dies

Billed as a sequel to the immensely popular Phantom of the Opera, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Love Never Dies picks up the action ten years after Eric, chased by an angry mob, fled from the Paris Opera House to exile in the sideshows of Coney Island. Unable to find gainful employment with his facial disfigurement, he’s been sheltered by the efforts of Meg Giry and her mother. Once he attains success in the operation of the sideshow, Eric plots to lure the now-married Christine to New York with a bogus offer from Oscar Hammerstein to sing at the new Manhattan Opera House.

Christine, her husband Raoul, and son Gustav are met at the pier by a small troupe of circus performers, including a dainty, ballerina-costumed little person named Fleck. Raoul loses his temper at being greeted by “freaks” instead of Hammerstein, and almost refuses to get into the motor carriage with them.

Eric surprises Christine in her dressing room, and finds that though Christine is still drawn to him and her marriage is failing, she still harbors anger at him for abandoning her years ago. When Eric hears of her son Gustav’s love of music, he realizes she must have conceived during their one might together.

Enraptured by the thought of a younger, physically perfect version of himself, Eric leads Gustave through the Coney Island sideshow in hopes of showing him the beauty of the freaks in mirrored cages. Gustave rejects him because of his facial disfigurement, literally running away screaming. Crushed, Eric nevertheless vows to see that Gustav will want for nothing and inherit all he owns, and makes Christine promise never to reveal his identity to Gustave.

Fleck is played by short-statured actress Emma J. Hawkins, who has also danced and stilt-walked her way through circus, theater, television, movies, and burlesque. (Her credits include Bogan Pride, Pizza (SBS), Star Wars and Wolverine.) Emma also runs her own company Atypical Theatre Company, embracing fair representation of disability in the Arts.

Short film challenges ‘scarred baddies’ stereotype

from BBC News Entertainment & Arts:

13 April 2012 Last updated at 07:05 ET
Short film challenges ‘scarred baddies’ stereotype
Some 750 cinemas across the UK will be running a short film to challenge movie attitudes to facial disfigurement.

The one-minute film, starring Downtown Abbey’s Michelle Dockery and Leo Gormley, will be shown ahead of feature films at Odeon cinemas for a fortnight.

“We are not suggesting that no villain has a scar, we’re just saying, let’s be more creative about this,” said Alison Rich, of charity Changing Faces.

“It’s just become a very lazy shorthand for film-makers,” she adds.

“Without saying or doing anything, an actor with a scar can walk on screen and audiences are attuned to thinking ‘there’s a baddie’,” Ms Rich, who is heading up the Face Equality on Film Campaign, told BBC News.

“And that portrayal sets up a moral judgement that extends to the wider world… to the playground, and to the job market.”

According to Changing Faces, one in every 111 people in the UK has a significant disfigurement to their face.

Yet a 2008 survey suggested that 90% of people find in difficult to attach positive qualities to people with disfigurements.

Ms Rich cites Pixar animation Finding Nemo as one of the few films where a physical disfigurement (a damaged fin) is “just one aspect of a character and doesn’t determine the storyline”.

“We don’t want to alienate the film industry, we want to work in partnership with them,” she adds.

The charity hopes their film will encourage audiences to think about the issue and plans to set up an advisory group to help film-makers include facial disfigurement in their work in a more positive manner.

“We’re so used to seeing people with disfigurements portrayed as the villain in films that it may be hard for people to imagine they could ever play someone’s friend, the Dad picking up his kids from school, the US President, or a lover,” says James Partridge, founder of Changing Faces.

“Freddy Krueger, Scarface and Two-Face are just some of the names that our clients get called at school, on the street and at work.

“Changing Faces hopes the film and campaign will encourage audiences and the wider film industry to think about how disfigurement can be portrayed in a more balanced way.”

There are notable exceptions in Hollywood of heroic characters with facial scarring including Harry Potter, comic book character Jonah Hex and Avengers star Nick Fury, played by Samuel L Jackson.