Evil albinos

Albinism in popular culture

The depiction of albinism in popular culture, especially the portrayal of people with albinism in film and fiction, has been asserted by albinism organizations and others to be largely negative and has raised concerns that it reinforces, or even engenders, societal prejudice and discrimination against such people. This trend is sometimes referred to as the "evil albino" plot device or albino bias.

The "evil albino" stereotype is a villain in fiction who is depicted as being albinistic (or displaying physical traits usually associated with albinism, even if the term is not used), with the specific and obvious purpose of distinguishing the villain in question from the heroes by means of appearance. Traits of albinism commonly associated with the evil albino stereotype include pale skin, platinum blonde hair, and blue or pink-to-red eyes. Notably absent from most depictions is impaired vision, which is experienced by most real people with albinism.

The stereotype has become sufficiently well-recognised to attract satire and to be considered a cliché. In response to the "albino gunmen" characters in The Da Vinci Code and The Matrix Reloaded, albinistic actor Dennis Hurley wrote, produced and starred in a short film parody, The Albino Code, playing up the stereotypes, illustrating a typical example of real-world prejudice, and pointing out that the vision problems associated with albinism would make a successful career as a hitman highly improbable. In The Big Over Easy, author Jasper Fforde includes an "albino community" protest against albino bias among his fictional news clippings, most of which satirize stock characters and hackneyed plot devices. Chicago Tribune movie reviewer Mark Caro says of this character type that it is someone "who looks albino and thus, in movie shorthand, must be vicious." The National Organization for Albinism and Hypopigmentation (NOAH) has stated that there were a total of sixty-eight films from 1960 to 2006 featuring an "evil albino".

Conversely, a number of real people with albinism have risen to fame (see "Famous people with albinism" section, below), especially in popular music (though, as in the case of the Winter brothers, may themselves be the subject of "evil albino" parody). Albino animals capture public imagination and wonder as zoo attractions, and even in the wild can attract popular, positive attention (see "Notable albino animals" section, below).

History of the stereotype

The "evil albino" archetype may also have its roots in folklore and mythology. Some cultures in Neolithic Eastern Europe depicted Death as a pallid woman with light hair. Fear of vampires and other legendary undead with a deathly pallor, especially in European folklore, could also have contributed to albino bias. The phenomenon may also have been influenced by attitudes towards people with albinism in Africa or Jamaica, where those with that condition are sometimes regarded as cursed or magical (see folklore section, below). Dermatologist and film critic Dr. Vail Reese theorizes that albino bias may be part of a broader Hollywood pattern of equating or at least linking skin disorders and appearance problems with villainy.

Another explanation may be sought in respective ideals of beauty — most "evil albinos" appear in works of fiction from the West. In fiction from Japan, where ideals call for as pale skin as possible, characters with albinism or associated traits are more frequently sympathetic than in Western fiction. This is not to say that Japanese popular culture has not depicted "evil albinos". However, such characters in Japanese fiction are often bishōnen whose beautiful appearance gives contrast to their evil character. Use of albinistic features to indicate villains in Western film appears to have begun in the 1960s, and may be related to the popularity of tanning (and thus a decrease in pale skin being seen as attractive) in this period.

One of the oldest perceived literary examples of albino bias was H.G. Wells's depiction of the main character in his 1897 science-fiction novel The Invisible Man, who was able to become invisible using his scientific discoveries only because he already lacked natural pigmentation; aberrant even before his experimentation, he subsequently became completely deranged, an "albino villain".

Albino bias is also alleged in modern times. For example, the 2003 Warner Bros movie The Matrix Reloaded featured two sociopathic characters with pale skin and white hair frequently interpreted to be albinos despite studio declarations that they are not. Positive depictions of albinos in mass culture are rarer, though one example is the 1995 film Powder which depicts an exceptionally gifted albinistic youth and the cruelty he endures because of his differences from "normal" people. In recent years, the National Organization for Albinism and Hypopigmentation (NOAH) has spoken out against albino bias in the United States. Albinistic actor Michael C. Bowman, of Me, Myself and Irene, has said, "Kids all over this country are being affected in a very negative and harmful way because of the sloppiness and laziness of a writer in Hollywood."

Fiction

Note: These lists do not include fantastic characters whose appearances are similar to albinos, but for reasons other than actual albinism (aliens, the undead, magical beings, the genetically altered, etc.) Exceptions are characters who are broadly perceived as members of the "evil albino" category due to the distinction being lost on audiences, where this confusion can be RS.

A number of movies, books and other works have been criticized for albino bias, as they associate the uncommon features of albinistic people (pale skin, white hair, and unpigmented eyes) with danger, terror, or criminality. Less frequently they are depicted as the harmless butt of jokes and ridicule, as maladjusted and undersocializled, or as "freaks". They may also actually be portrayed positively, even heroically – a more recent counter-trend.

Villains

The most common depiction of people with albinism in fiction is that of the inimical, violent villain, especially the hitman, assassin, sociopath or crime boss.

  • Silas, in the book The Da Vinci Code (2003) by Dan Brown, (played by Paul Bettany in the derived 2006 movie) is described as being albinistic. He is a religious fanatic and an assassin who murders several people, although 'repents' at the end of the book, praying to God for mercy and forgiveness. Critics have called the portrayal "damning", "hateful" and "cruelly stereotypical". In defense, author Brown has pointed out that "Silas's skin color has nothing to do with his violent nature – he is driven to violence by others' cruelty... not by anything inherent in his physiology" and that he believes "the novel's portrayal of Silas is a compassionate exploration of how difficult albinism can be – especially for young people – and how cruelly societies can ostracize those of us who look different", going on to say he considers Silas to be the most sympathetic character in the story.
  • "The Twins" (played by Adrian and Neil Rayment), in The Matrix Reloaded (2003) are considered by detractors to be the highest-profile case of "evil albino" bias to date, though said by producers to not be intended to be taken for natural albinos. These computer software constructs are nearly-unstoppable assassin henchmen of another villain.
  • "Snow" (played by Billy Drago), in Vamp (1986) is the violently-inclined leader of a street gang composed of albinistic people and others with appearance problems. He meets a violent end.
  • Joseph (played by Jake Busey, son of Gary Busey; see next entry), in Contact (1997) is a religious extremist turned suicide-bomber.
  • Mr. Joshua (played by Gary Busey), in Lethal Weapon (1987) is a seemingly psychopathic hit man. He was specifically referred to as "albino" in the film.
  • Mark Purayah/Parchezzi in Hitman: Blood Money are hit men for an agency known as "The Franchise" and are the arch nemesis of the main character Agent 47.
  • Bosie (played by Charlie Hunnam), in Cold Mountain (2003) is a U.S. Civil War-era "sneering albino killer ...[who] seems to have wandered in from a Lethal Weapon movie" — Ty Burr, Boston Globe review.
  • "Dragon" (played by Thayer David) in the The Eiger Sanction (1975) is an underworld kingpin also described as being unable to stand light and requiring frequent blood transfusions.
  • "The Albino" (played by Mel Smith), in The Princess Bride (1987) is an Igor-like henchman and torturer, depicted as diseased, with visible sores.
  • "Albino" (played by the genuinely albinistic Victor Varnado), in End of Days (1999) is a menacing "servant of Satan" who meets a grisly death.
  • "Whitey" Jackson a.k.a. "The Albino" (played by William Frankfather), in Foul Play (1978) is another heavily-armed killer, this time in a comedy.
  • "Tombstone", in the Spider-man comics is an African-American with albinism. He is a mob hitman. (See main article for sources.)
  • "Tobias Whale" a D.C. Comics African-American albinistic mobster whose villainy induces character Jefferson Pierce to become the superhero "Black Lightning". (See main article for sources.)
  • Moke (played by Dar Robinson), in Stick (1985) is a ruthless criminal, who likes to shoot people in the back
  • Judge Holden, in Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian (published 1985; ISBN 0-394-54482-X). In McCarthy's novel, Holden is a wanton mass-murderer. There is no historical evidence to suggest that the non-fictional Holden was albinistic. (See main article for further sources.
  • "Albino" (played by Warrick Grier), in Freefall (1994) is a menacing figure who drugs the film's heroine.
  • Mark Purayah (Mark II) and Mark Parchezzi (Mark III) ("the Albinos"), in Hitman: Blood Money (released 2005) are clones of an unseen Mark I, and all are assassins. (See main article for further sources.)
  • Otis B. Driftwood (played by Bill Moseley), in House of 1000 Corpses (2003). leads a clan of psychopathic backwoods serial killers. Despite being played by the same actor, in the sequel The Devil's Rejects (2005) he has a normal skin tone. (See main article for further sources.)
  • Griffin, the main character of The Invisible Man (1897) by H.G. Wells is of questionable sanity and a thief by nature, obsessed with colour and pigmentation due to his albinism. The text of Wells's novel implies that Griffin's invisibility formula works on him (and a white cat in an early experiment) only because of albinism. (See main article for sources.)
  • The Autumn Brothers, in the Jonah Hex comics are half-human villains for the main character to fight. They were thinly-disguised caricatures of real-life albinistic musician brothers, Edgar and Johnny Winter, who filed a lawsuit.
  • "The Albino" (played by Bill Bolender) from the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "Blood Oath", who is a dishonorable Klingon warrior and murderer. (See main article for further sources.)
  • Amadeus, the dhampir antagonist of the Slayer horror series by Karen Koehler is a blind albino, as well as a vampire.
  • Dr. Robert Kirkland "Kirk" Langström, also known as the Man-Bat, is depicted as being albinistic in the television series The Batman (which also depicts him as more villainous than other versions of the character). Langström's "Man-Bat" form is also depicted as being albino.(See main article for further sources.)
  • Kobra, an albinistic biker in Robert R. McCammon's 1981 novel They Thirst who is depicted as sadistic and violent. He eventually becomes a commander an army of vampires besieging Los Angeles (but was albinistic before becoming a vampire).(See main article for sources.)
  • Monsieur Zenith, a pulp fiction villain in the Sexton Blake series by Anthony Skene. Zenith is a world-weary gentleman thief who uses opium, commits crimes, and feuds with Blake simply to relieve his ennui.
  • The clairvoyant albino Juni Swan in Darren Shan's The Demonata series is characterised by her deceptive and sadistic nature (as well as by her exceptional beauty, one of the characters claiming that "unconcealed evil suits her"). However, in Death's Shadow, the seventh book of the series, she appears as a hideously deformed monster.

Subjects of ridicule, and "freaks"

Recently, there has been an increase in the number albinistic characters who are mocked (sometimes by the actual works in which they appear, an instance of albino bias itself, and sometimes by other characters in a way that highlights albino bias.

  • "Powder", the titular character in the movie Powder. The name can be seen as mocking or derogatory; however the depiction can been seen as positive, in its portrayal of the effects of bias against those with albinism.
  • Casper, a.k.a. "Whitey" or "Q-Tip" (played by Michael C. Bowman), in Me, Myself and Irene (2000). His alleged real name is as mocking as his nicknames. He is the subject of a good deal of ridicule, which may be accurately representative of the casual discrimination that people with albinism are often made to suffer, and is accurately depicted as having impaired vision, and is a vital friend of the main characters. The genuinely albinistic actor "somewhat regrets" taking the role: "I worried that it was sending the wrong message."
  • Arthur "Boo" Radley, in To Kill a Mockingbird, is physically described in a way that suggests albinism, though he is also reclusive, so his light skin may be more to signify that he does not often go out in the sun. He is an object of fear and superstition to those who live around him, but his actions are generally altruistic.
  • Ceecee, a character in "The Mediator" novel series by Meg Cabot. Ridiculed by her classmates. Generally portrayed fairly accurately as a person with albinism, wearing protective clothing, sunscreen, hats, and sunglasses outdoors, though said to have purplish irises even though that is rare. While described supportively, as intelligent. On the other hand, Ceecee's aunt, who also has albinism, reads tarot cards and speaks with the dead.
  • Harold Kline, in Ghost Boy, a novel by Iain Lawrence, is an albinistic youth who ran away from home and ended up working in the circus with the other "freaks", as people called them. His portrayal is supportive, but the "freak" label is not, even if accurately depicting biased attitudes.
  • The hermaphrodite, in Federico Fellini's Satyricon.
  • One of the sangomas, or witchdoctors, in Shaka Zulu has albinism.

Neutral and ambiguous portrayals

Neutral and least morally uncertain depictions of persons with albinism are also somewhat common in literature and film, as anti-heroes, morally confused characters, or simply incidentally.

  • "Snow", an albinistic psychic who achieves a messianic following, has his story told in Snow, a concept album by progressive rock band Spock's Beard. The portrayal is ambiguous and unrealistic, and the character has a stereotypical moniker.
  • "U.V." or "U-Vee", in the film Disturbing Behavior. He is not a villain, but a stoner with a stereotypical nickname that refers to his skin sensitivity, while on the other hand has a clever sense of humor, is "hip", and is well-accepted by his friends.
  • "The bride" (played by the genuinely albinistic Diane Costa), in Nobody's Fool (1986) Depicted accurately, though possibly mostly for comedic effect, as requiring sunglasses under her veil at her outdoor wedding, and mocked behind her back as having landed a husband out of pity, but shown as engaging in a normal societal role.
  • Snowdie McLain, an albinistic woman, is a central character in Eudora Welty's "The Golden Apples", a book of connected stories set in Mississippi. Other characters sometimes link Snowdie's albinism to her reserved manner or her perceived helplessness.
  • Princess Hinoto, in the X manga and TV series and X-1999 movie. While a heroine in the original comics and movie, she becomes a villain in the follow-up television series. Has red eyes in some episodes, purplish in others. Accurately portrayed as having vision problems, but also given deaf-muteness, lameness, and psychic powers.
  • The Grey Seers, in the tabletop game Warhammer Fantasy Battles are albinistic prophets and powerful wizards of the Skaven rat-people. While this character race are generally "evil", from their own viewpoint the albinistic Seers are venerated.
  • "Whitey" (played by Robert Englund), in Buster and Billie. He dyes his hair black, but is known by his nickname, which he wears on his hat.
  • The detective, in What's the Worst that Could Happen?. Like the villain in Foul Play, he wears all-white suits.
  • Ghost, in George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire, is an albino dire wolf trained to aid his companion Jon Snow, and does so many times, as the second most frequently referred to companion animal of this sort in the story. While portrayed heroically, Ghost is said to have been the runt of his litter, and thus this novel links albinism with other unrelated conditions (cf. "The Albino" in The Princess Bride above, among others).
  • El Blanco, in Tremors 3: Back to Perfection, is an albino graboid that while inaccurately portrayed as being sterile as a result, otherwise behaves as any other predator of this sort in the film/TV series.
  • Dave Dawson, a minor character in Taylor Caldwell's novel God's Little Acre, is an innocent albino who is kidnapped by some rural villains in the superstitious belief that he has magical powers.
  • "An albino" (along with "a mulatto") features prominently in the chorus of Nirvana's hit song about teenage angst and high school factionalism, "Smells Like Teen Spirit".
  • In C.S. Lewis's novel Out of the Silent Planet, the protagonist Ransom (an Englishman visiting Mars) encounters three species of intelligent Martians. One Martian individual is unpigmented.
  • Olympia Binewski, an albinistic, bald, hunchbacked dwarf, from the 1989 novel Geek Love by Katherine Dunn. "Oly" is the narrator of the story, and as part of a family intentionally bred for defects for traveling carnival show purposes is no more or less "freakish" than the rest of the major characters; her albinism appears simply to have been selected at random by the author as a genetic abnormality to add to the list. (See main article for sources and further detail.)
  • James, a character in Shortbus, had a catchphrase, "I'm an albino!" that he used as a child star in a fictitious sitcom about a White child growing up in a Black family. In the film, he has grown up, and people use "I'm an albino!" as a greeting to him at parties. He and his partner also gleefully shout the phrase while having sex. At one party, a man with albinism comes up to James and talks to him, saying "I really am an albino" (although played by Reg Vermue, who has normal pigment in real life).
  • Cielle, a minor character in the flash animation film Broken Saints, is an albino occultist with white dreadlocks and a pink eye pigmentation who gives a prophetic tarot card reading to Raimi and Oran. Although Oran scorns her, she is not offended and claims that many people don't understand her condition.
  • Mr. Skimpole, a character in The Somnambulist is an albino who at first seems evil, but is made more likeable through his crippled son, whom he cares for. Although the narrator insinuates that his son might be a fabrication to make him seem more sympathetic.

Heroes and positive portrayals

More rarely, but with somewhat increasing frequency (perhaps as a response to concerns about the "evil albino" stereotype), persons with albinism are sometimes depicted heroically or otherwise positively, or at least accurately with regard to their condition and its medical and social results:

  • Elric of Melniboné, the main character of an eponymous series of fantasy novels by Michael Moorcock. (See main article for sources.)
  • Beowulf "Bey" Shaeffer, hero of several stories in Larry Niven's Known Space series, from the planet We Made It, which is populated primarily by albinistic people due to a founder effect from the original colonists. (See main article for sources.)
  • Bran Davies, in "The Dark Is Rising" novel series, is a positive portrayal, but somewhat inaccurate because the character lacks any vision problems.
  • Bjørn Beltø, in Tom Egeland's Norwegian novel Sirkelens Ende pre-dates but is very similar to The Da Vinci Code. Coincidentally it features an albinistic person in a positive role while the latter does the opposite.
  • Pete White in The Venture Bros. animated series on "Adult Swim". An albinistic computer scientist and friend of Dr. Venture from his college years, he runs "Conjectural Technologies" with Master Billy Quizboy, Boy Genius. The name is stereotypical, but his intelligence is accentuated, and the character is not otherwise mocked.
  • Misaki Saiki, an albinistic dominatrix, is the principle heroine in the Vulgar Ghost Daydream manga. She speaks to ghosts for a special government agency, but such fantasy is common in the genre. (See main article for sources.)
  • Billy Raven of the "Children of the Red King" series is an albinistic orphan seeking adoption. Realistically, he needs eyeglasses; unrealistically, he has the magic ability to talk to animals although his supernatural abilities are said to not be related to his albinism (cf. "Snow" and "Powder", etc., above).
  • Maple White, explorer and original discoverer of the plateau in Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World is described by Professor Challenger as having some characteristics of albinism.
  • Serbitar, the noble warrior priest in David Gemmell's novel Legend.
  • In Sophie and the Albino Camel and other books by British children's author Stephen Davies, the hero is an albino camel called Chobbal. The animal experiences rejection by his own mother so is fed and nurtured by a young African boy. The albino camel has a cheerful and generous disposition.
  • Peter West, the protagonist and narrator of the novel Simple Man, is depicted as having realistic eye problems. The character is the great-grandson of a fictional early 20th century albinistic circus performer, Angelica Georgiou. It is implied in the narrative that Angelica was very beautiful, intelligent, talented and charming in her prime. Peter is portrayed as intelligent, talented, witty, and ethical, but also very introverted, as the survivor of neglect and extreme childhood abuse by his schizophrenic mother, who castrated him during a psychotic break. He is also portrayed as attractive but somewhat "strange"-looking due to a resultant elongated skeleton from being castrated during prepubescence.
  • Whylas (played by Dennis Hurley), in The Albino Code, a 2007 short film parodying The Da Vinci Code's Silas (as well as the Matrix Reloaded twins). In the parody, Whylas (played by an actor who actually does have albinism) has realistic vision problems that make him hilariously incompetent as an assassin, a job he doesn't want anyway, being just a regular guy.

Folklore, urban legends and myths

In some cultures, people with albinism are believed in folklore to have magical powers or to be able to tell the future, a common theme in fiction as well.

Africa

In Zimbabwe, modern folklore posits that sexual intercourse with an albinistic person will cure one of HIV, leading to the rape (and subsequent HIV infection) of women with albinism in that region.

In Tanzania in 2008, President Kikwete publicly condemned witchdoctors for a spate of murders of albinistic people (26 since March 2007 between July 2008, and limited to Tanzania) for their body parts which are thought to bring good luck – hair, arms, legs and blood are used to make potions which the witchdoctors claim will bring prosperity. Consequently, graves of the albinistic have to be sealed with cement to discourage grave robbers.

Caribbean

In Jamaica, people with albinism were historically degraded, and regarded as "cursed". In recent times, the albinistic musicians "King Yellowman" and "Al Beeno" have helped to curb this stereotype.

North America

The 2004 book Weird N.J. (a tie-in to the History Channel TV series Weird U.S.) chronicled, failed to prove, yet further popularized one of the lesser-known local urban legends of the US, "albino colonies". The book uses firsthand accounts mailed to the authors to paint a picture of various locations in the U.S. (most notably Clifton, New Jersey) where aggregations of albinistic families are said to live in seclusion. The accounts tell tales of honking horns to try to bring the residents out of their houses, of gawkers being shot at by residents, and even of gangs of local albinistic vigilantes.

South America

Among the Kuna of Panama and Colombia, the albinistic have a special place in the indigenous mythology.

Non-fiction

Famous people with albinism

People commonly mistaken to have albinism

Roy Orbison was falsely said to be albinistic, by his widow, for unknown reasons. German singer Heino has Graves disease, which can be mistaken for albinism. Actor Anthony Rapp fronts a rock band called Albinokid, but is not albinistic, being a normally pigmented Caucasian. London mayor Boris Johnson, known for his pale hair, has also been mistakenly called albino. In general, platinum blonde ("tow-headed)" people with fair skin can be mistaken for albinistic (and conversely, some forms of albinism can result in phenotypes so normal-looking that only genetic testing can reveal the albinistic genes).

Notable albino animals

An albino humpback whale called Migaloo (Australian Aboriginal for "white lad") travels the east coast of Australia, and has become famous in the local media. Bristol Zoo was the home to a very rare albino African penguin named Snowdrop, who was hatched at the zoo in October 2002 and died in August 2004. For many years, a unique albino gorilla named Floquet de Neu in Catalan and Copito de Nieve in Spanish (both meaning "Snowflake"), was the most famous resident of the Parc Zoològic de Barcelona.

Perhaps the most significant albino animal in history was Mocha Dick, a sperm whale of the early 19th century that lived mostly near the island of Mocha, off Chile's southern Pacific coast, several decades before Herman Melville fictionalized him in the 1851 novel Moby-Dick (however, the book's caricature was not albinistic, and simply had a white hump for unexplained reasons). The real whale was renowned for being docile until attacked whereupon he became ferocious and capable of disabling smaller vessels. This made him widely feared among whaler crews, though also a target for adventurous captains, who engaged him in possibly as many as hundred or more sea battles before he was eventually killed. While few know of the real whale today, the novel inspired by him is ranked among the most important in the English language.

See also

References

External links

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