F I L M
Many characters intended to be people with albinism have made appearances
on TV and in the movies. Unfortunately, the depictions have been
overwhelmingly negative, revealing a great deal of insensitivity and ignorance
on the part of the writers and directors.
Below is a chronology of movies and television shows featuring depictions of albinism, beginning with the most recent.
THE DA VINCI CODE: Directed by Ron Howard, 2006.
Like Dan Brown's bestselling novel that spawned it (see "Contemporary Fiction" section), this film perpetuates many of the worst misconceptions about albinism and demonstrates its creators' lack of research about and callous attitude toward the true nature of the condition. A main character in the movie is Silas, a murderous, self-flagellating albino monk who will stop at nothing to conceal a discovery that could threaten the very foundations of Catholicism. The movie's official Web site describes Silas as having "ghost-pale skin with thinning white hair," and that "his irises were pink with dark red pupils...The spiked cilice belt that he wore around his thigh cut into his flesh, and yet his soul sang with satisfaction of service to the Lord. Pain was good." Such negative overdramatizations of and inaccuracies about the physical traits of albinism, along with the assumption of an equally twisted personality to accompany them, is all too common.
Long before the film's release, several attempts were made by the National Organization for Albinism and Hypopigmentation (NOAH) to persuade director Ron Howard and author Dan Brown not to carry forward into the movie the ignorance about albinism demonstrated by the book. NOAH requested that the film either remove albinism from the equation and retain all of Silas's other traits, or avoid making him so villainous. These requests were largely ignored. Paul Bettany, the actor who played Silas, did not himself have albinism, and was made up to look the part (though at least his eyes were shown as true-to-life blue-gray rather than the purely dramatic red called for in the novel). He attributes Silas's behavior to the abuse his character endured early in life rather than to his albinism. However, as with many other works before it, the implication is that people in such circumstances are incapable of transcending them, and that developing misanthropic tendencies is inevitable as a result. Rather than fall back on an ill-informed and offensive stereotype, a more constructive approach might have been to portray Silas as one who rises above his difficulties and is stronger for having endured them.
Photographer Rick Guidotti, whose Positive Exposure project seeks to dispel the stigma of albinism around the world and celebrate the beauty of difference, collaborated with NOAH to produce "The Real Face of Albinism," an informational color brochure protesting the treatment of albinism in film over the past 40 years. The brochure contrasts these often-monstrous characters with factual information and Rick's photos depicting albinism and those who have it as they truly are.
COLD MOUNTAIN: Directed by Anthony Minghella, 2003.
Adapted from Charles Frazier's novel of the same name, this Civil War epic features a violence-loving evildoer with albinism named Bosie. He is a member of the Home Guard, a group of men deemed unfit for combat (Bosie's albinism and frequent nosebleeds put him in this category) who were responsible for watching over the families of Confederate soldiers. Many of these men became merciless assassins as the group's activities shifted to the execution of war deserters. Bosie relishes his acts of cruelty, which include noosing the neck of an innocent woman with so much force as to render her permanently mute, and thrives on killing. He himself dies in a gruesome manner by the film's conclusion, but not before murdering one of the protagonists.
What is even more disturbing than the actor's white makeup, bleached hair, violet-tinted contact lenses, and bloody nose is an alleged claim by Charlie Hunnam, the actor who plays Bosie, that he thoroughly researched albinism for the role despite clear evidence to the contrary. According to a Film Threat interview with Hunnam (12/17/03), albinism was a component added to Bosie's character by the director specifically for the movie (in the novel, he is merely slight, fair-haired, and sickly). In the interview, Hunnam states, "One day, Anthony asked me, 'What if [Bosie] was an albino?' He told me to go away and read as much as I could about albinism...I read that the condition was often a product of incest...Also, I read that albinos generally have about 60/20 vision and are susceptible to nosebleeds."
If this interview is to be believed, it is obvious that no reputable sources were consulted at all. Parents who are completely unrelated can and do produce children with albinism. Bleeding disorders almost never appear with the condition except in an extremely rare type of albinism called Hermansky-Pudlak Syndrome. Finally, the vision level associated with albinism is often far worse than 20/60 it is usually in the range of legal blindness which means that a gun-toting individual with albinism would rarely if ever hit his target. This type of shoddy so-called "research" prevails in the film industry.
THE MATRIX - RELOADED: Directed by Andy and Larry Wachowski, 2003.
In this second installment of The Matrix, a sci-fi thriller about the enslavement of mankind by machines, the film's protagonists Neo, Morpheus, and Trinity continue their struggle against the malevolent cyber-intelligence that draws power from human life in its quest for world domination. "The Matrix" is a facade-world that simulates real life, created by the evil machines to prevent human victims from realizing that they have been captured and from attempting to resist. Neo has the ability to see The Matrix for what it truly is, and is attacked by various "agents" (computers in human form) who are intent on stopping him from destroying it. Among the villains presented in this sequel are pale-skinned twins sporting long white-blond dreadlocks, predominantly white clothes, and dark sunglasses. Although they have dark eyebrows and lips, their coloring is strongly suggestive of the albinism stereotyping evident in other films.
While Warner Brothers, which produced The Matrix - Reloaded, strongly denies any resemblance between the twins and other albino villains, and despite the fact that these characters (unlike real people with albinism) do not possess the poor eyesight that would prevent them from being the sharp marksmen they are or even from driving, the apparent likeness has escaped neither the media nor the commercial companies creating spinoff products from the film. According to MSNBC.com's The Scoop, numerous publications from Variety to Time magazine have referred to these characters as "albino" twins. "Albino Twins" costumes are even being sold by online retailers.
THE TIME MACHINE: Directed by Simon Wells, 2002.
Adapted from H.G. Wells's 1895 science fiction novel of the same name, this newest of two film versions is directed by Wells's great-grandson. The story follows Alexander Hartdegen, a scientist and inventor who is determined to undo the tragic events leading to the death of his fiancée by finding a way to travel through time. He succeeds in creating a time machine, and winds up projecting himself 800,000 years into the future. To his horror and dismay, he encounters the Morlocks, a race of hideous, underground-dwelling beings who prey upon human flesh.
The Morlocks have a master, the Uber-Morlock, a calculating and vitriolic albino arch-villain so intelligent that an extension of his brain is visible above his spine. Despite that intelligence, however, he is vanquished in short order by the film's hero.
ME, MYSELF, & IRENE: Directed by Peter and Bobby Farrelly, 2000.
This slapstick comedy features a character called "Whitey" and "Casper" who is openly ridiculed about his albinism. His use of a bioptic (a telescopic lens mounted on glasses), which some people with albinism use to help improve their distance vision, is also mocked in the movie.
END OF DAYS: Directed by Peter Hyams, 1999.
This horror film revolves around Satan's release from Hell just prior to the second millenium. It is prophesied that his success in impregnating a human female by the end of 1999 will usher in the apocalypse and preserve his freedom. The target woman receives ominous visitations from demonic entities amidst her daily life, including a character referred to only as "Albino" in the credits.
DISTURBING BEHAVIOUR: Directed by David Nutter, 1998.
This story is set in a high school whose students have had their brains surgically altered to suppress their rebellious tendencies. However, this causes a buildup of negative emotions leading to random acts of violence. "U.V.," a character with albinism, is one of a group of "misfits" who has not yet been subjected to the operation. He and his friends band together to prevent further proliferation of the procedure and to expose the madness of its creator, whose vision of a perfect race includes total conformity. Although U.V.'s uniqueness puts him on the fringe, it is also a key factor enabling him to advance the cause undertaken by the story's main protagonists. He emerges as both likable and somewhat heroic, which is refreshing and unusual for fictional characters with albinism.
POWDER: Directed by Victor Salva, 1995.
Young Jeremy Reed, born to a mother struck by lightning while she was pregnant, is diagnosed with albinism at birth and later, with the ability to conduct electricity all over his body. His head is completely bald, his skin stark-white, and his eyes pink. Though extraordinarily intelligent and empathic, his life is a constant struggle, as he is rejected by his father shortly after being born, spends his childhood in a basement locked up by his grandparents, endures merciless treatment from his peers, and loses his only chance at romantic love. In the end, he leaves the world behind via self-electrocution, his bodily energy dissapating in a powerful burst as he places himself in the path of a brilliant bolt of lightning.
Though deserving credit for at least putting a character with albinism in the role of the protagonist, this film still perpetuates the concept of people with albinism as freaks with no place in society. Additionally, Jeremy's physical features are extremely artificial (one could even see the caky residue of the unnaturally white makeup the actor was wearing) and he is more often addressed by "Powder," the nickname given to him because of his skin color, than by his real name.
THE SIMPSONS HALLOWEEN SPECIAL: Aired mid-'90s, written by Matt Groening
In the wake of a nuclear accident Homer Simpson sets off, survivors are transformed into pale, menacing creatures who live underground. He drives through the streets and comes upon the Winter brothers, two musicians with albinism, as they are loading equipment onto their truck below a marquee with their names on it. He associates them with the radioactively altered mutants and runs them over with his car, yelling, "Die, chalk-faced scum!"
STAR TREK DEEP SPACE NINE "BLOOD OATH" Episode: Aired 1994, written by Peter Alan Fields.
A crusade is undertaken by Lt. Dax and three Klingon warriors to seek revenge against a villain known as "The Albino" by hunting him down and killing him. "The Albino" has murdered one of the Klingon's sons, and the bereaved father vows to "cut out [The Albino's] heart and eat it while he watches with his dying breath."
THE FIRM: Directed by Sidney Pollack, 1993.
A hired hitman for a law firm connected to organized crime is said to be an "albino" with "long blond hair, almost white, and weird blue eyes," and is shot by his own cohort near the end as both are attempting to kill the hero.
LETHAL WEAPON: Directed by Richard Donner, 1987.
Another evil hitman, this one legally blind, at one point makes direct hits through plate glass from a helicopter. The protagonist calls him, amidst a stream of curses, an "albino" and later succeeds in killing him.
THE PRINCESS BRIDE: Directed by Rob Reiner, 1987.
A lumbering, hunchbacked lackey who is one of the "bad guys" is referred to as "The Albino," both by the other characters and in the closing credits.
VAMP: Directed by Richard Wenk, 1986.
A red-eyed, white mutant named Snow is called a "psychotic albino" in the midst of a coffee-shop brawl that he is involved in and subsequently loses. He and a gang of other "albinos" later chase the protagonist through the sewers but are defeated when vampires attack them.
STICK: Directed by Burt Reynolds, 1985.
"Snow White" and "Bunny Eyes" are the epithets given to a sadistic, drug-lord strong-arm with a bad make-up job designed to resemble a person with albinism. He eventually meets his death by plummeting to the ground from a tower.
FOUL PLAY: Directed by Colin Higgins, 1978.
A shockingly white "albino" with a twisted agenda divides his energies between stalking the leading lady and attempting to kill the Pope. The film comes to a climax when he is shot through the neck by the hero.
ALBINO: Directed by Jürgen Goslar, 1976. (German)
An "albino" African terrorist leader and woman-stalker leaves fear and horror in his wake.
THE EIGER SANCTION: Directed by Clint Eastwood, 1975.
A murderous crime boss named Dragon describes himself as "a total albino...the slightest amount of direct light is painful to my eyes," and says that his skin will burn instantly if he leaves his red-lit room. Dragon's condition is further dramatized by his being extremely susceptible to infection, and by his explaining that he requires periodic and lengthy blood transfusions to avoid falling prey to severe illness.
THE LIFE AND TIMES OF JUDGE ROY BEAN: Directed by John Huston, 1972.
Stacey Keach plays "Bad Bob," an Old West-style villain with albinism who is most likely a parody of real-life blues-rock musician Johnny Winter who, unlike the film actor, actually has albinism.
THE OMEGA MAN: Directed by Boris Sagal, 1971.
A rampant virus causes those it infects to lose their pigment. They cannot stand bright light and become nocturnal stalkers dressed in hooded black robes, attempting to kill the few not yet infected. One of the protagonists shoots at them, but they capture him and try to sacrifice him in a darkened Yankee Stadium. Their efforts are thwarted when the rescuers switch on the lights, sending the evil horde scurrying from the scene of the crime.
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