Forms of popular media like TV shows, books, and movies all rely heavily on stereotypes when creating characters. Not all stereotypes are harmful, like the “dumb blonde” stereotype. While this stereotype was very popular a few years back, I don’t think the lives of blondes were affected. There are enough intelligent blondes in the world that there isn’t any confusion between reality and fiction. Not all stereotypes in media are this harmless. Sometimes the stereotypes found in popular media negatively affect the lives of many.
I am a person with albinism, a genetic condition that affects the pigment in my hair, skin, and eyes. This means I have white-blonde hair, very fair skin, and light blue eyes. Albinism also comes with some sort of low vision that can vary in severity. I am personally legally blind, but there are people with albinism who have better vision than I do.
In my experience, most people have never heard of albinism, but the second I say the word “albino,” so many lightbulbs go off in people’s heads. Only, these are not the lightbulbs I want to be lit.
For years now, the “albino” has become a stereotyped character within media that does not accurately represent a person with albinism. These characters usually have red eyes, perfect vision, and sadly are almost always some sort of evildoer or villain.
Person with Albinism
The word albino has a long history of its own. There is a debate within the albinism community about whether or not it is an offensive word. I am speaking for myself when I say that I do not want to be referred to as an albino. I am a person with albinism. Part of the reason I prefer ‘person with albinism’ is that albino is used to describe animals, and I am not an animal. The other reason I am not a fan of the word albino is because of the way the media has depicted people with albinism in the past.
One of the biggest myths the media has spread about people with albinism is that they have red eyes. This is not true, nor will it ever be true. People with albinism will never have red or pink eyes. Animals with albinism will have pink eyes, but people will not.
The reason why some people with albinism appear as if they have pink or violet eyes is that the light passes through the iris and reflects off the red blood vessels at the back of the eyes. These people with albinism have such a thin blue iris that light passes through it. It is the same process that causes red eyes in flash photography, just to a higher degree.
While I was growing up, I was told countless times that there was no way I could have albinism because I did not have red eyes. This is simply not true. If it were, no one would have albinism because no one has red eyes.
The second harmful myth that stems from the media that inaccurately represents people with albinism is never showing low vision. People with albinism will have some degree of low vision. Our eyes have such a hard time filtering light that it affects how we see the world. People with albinism also usually have nystagmus, an uncontrollable shaking of the eye. This makes focusing on something harder, and it affects depth perception.
Yet, if you watch any show that has some sort of character with albinism, there will be no mention of how whatever situation they are in is affected by their sight. This is not accurate to the daily life of someone with albinism. My vision does not define me, but it is a part of my everyday life. It is hard to always have to explain to others that people with albinism struggle with light sensitivity and just general low vision.
Lastly, I have not personally seen a popular show, movie, or book with a character with albinism who is not evil in some way. This is not as dangerous in our American culture. I have not met someone who assumed I was a criminal mastermind just because I had albinism, but it is sad to consume media where the only people like you are evil.
These stereotypes have followed other people with albinism and me for a significant amount of time, but I do not believe they are permanent. Every time I educate someone on the realities of albinism, I work towards debunking all the myths created by the media. Even little progress should be celebrated because what if that friend I just talked to has the opportunity to talk to one of their friends about the same thing? This butterfly effect can improve the lives of so many people with albinism.
I am also a firm believer in movies and shows hiring actors with albinism to play characters with albinism. This will help improve the accuracy of the characters and the authenticity of the acting. Instead of painting a character white and giving them red contacts, save time and money by skipping the makeup and hiring someone who has the condition.
I also think it goes deeper than just the actors. Films and TV shows should hire writers with albinism to help write about albinism. No one knows the condition better than people who live with it. I am confident that the stereotypes that plague the media regarding albinism will dissipate if someone who has the condition is behind the scenes creating the characters.
I am proud of my albinism, and I will not tire of debunking the myths about albinism fueled by the media. That being said, I do not want to settle for poor representation. I want to challenge our entertainment industry to start to be inclusive with their actors and writers. I want to see a movie that has an everyday person with albinism as opposed to a villain, played by someone with albinism, and written by someone with albinism. And I want to see them take on the world.
Are you interested in working for the entertainment industry as a person who is blind or low vision? Check out Joe Strechay’s Career Conversation, where he shares how he helps actors and production teams accurately portray blindness and low vision.