Page last updated at 11:08 GMT, Monday, 30 March 2009 12:08 UK

Disfigured people 'film villains'

CBeebies' Cerrie Burnell and co-presenter Alex Winters
Cerrie Burnell, pictured with co-presenter Alex Winters, was born with part of an arm missing

The public would be happy to see more people with disfigurements represented on screen, according to research carried out at Cardiff University.

A two-year study of TV and film representations of disfigured people found they were often portrayed as villains or in a sensationalised way.

The researchers say such people need to be shown in a more incidental way.

Their report follows some recent negative comments about a children's presenter with part of an arm missing.

A small number of parents complained after a new CBeebies presenter, Cerrie Burnell, was introduced, saying the fact she had only one arm was scaring their children.

A comedy parody of Freddie Kruger by Alexei Sayle
A comedy parody of Freddie Kruger by Alexei Sayle
Freddie Kruger, scarred face - Nightmare on Elm Street
The Joker, scarred face - Batman
Dr No, prosthetic hand - Dr No (James Bond)
Blofeld, scarred face - You Only Live Twice (James Bond)
Tee Hee, metal arm - Live and Let Die (James Bond)
Howard Payne, thumb blown off - Speed
Source: Cardiff University research

However, Cardiff University's school of journalism, media and cultural studies findings showed most people surveyed did not hold these sorts of negative views.

Dr Claire Wardle and Dr Tammy Boyce reviewed over 8,000 hours of television footage, spoke to 17 focus groups and interviewed 16 producers over two years.

They found Ms Burnell's appearance on television was a rare example of a person appearing on screen whose differing appearance was incidental to her role.

Dr Wardle said: "Television represents disfigurement in a way that would be completely unacceptable for many other minority groups.

"Television has played a role in changing attitudes towards mental health, race and sexuality and has a responsibility to do the same with disfigurement.

"It should be working towards making the invisible visible, moving away from a 'freak show' visibility to an everyday visibility, where people with disfigurement are also given a voice."

Lottie Pollak was facially disfigured by a gunshot wound in 2003. Commenting on the report, she said: "It's very lazy TV to so often see the person with a facial scar portrayed as the bad guy.

"That kind of representation has an impact and that impact must be even greater for a young person with disfigurement coming to terms with how the world, and the media, see them.

"Hopefully, this research shows that viewing audiences are intelligent people - they don't need these shortcuts and would welcome greater and more positive appearances by people who are different."

The research was funded by the medical research charity Healing Foundation.

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