BRUEGEL’S THE PARABLE OF THE BLIND MARK ANTHONY KAYE
WHY MEN ARE BETTER VILLAINS
PERMANENCE IN CHANGE
THE MEANING OF CICADAS
WE ARE AT THEIR MERCY
JE SUIS UN ARTISTE
KYLE MANGAN REPRINT ISSUE 08
ISSUE 49 DECEMBER 2017
When it comes to movie bad guys, the best bad guys—or should that be the “worst” bad guys?—are almost all, well, guys. Just look at the American Film Institute’s list of the greatest screen villains of all time. Out of 51, including one animal (the shark in Jaws , two machines (HAL and the Terminator), and two extraterrestrial species (the Martians in The War of the Worlds  and the alien in Alien ), only 16 are women. The other 30 are all men.
One may, of course, quibble with the AFI’s choice of characters. Bonnie and Clyde, as portrayed in Arthur Penn’s 1967 movie, are not really villains at all. That’s largely the point of the film and a major reason for its success with the late-60s youth audience: when traditional authority figures can’t be trusted, outlaws become heroes.
And one may argue with the AFI’s method of selection, which involves polling 1500 “leaders across the film community”, as the institute’s website rather cryptically refers to their jurors. Though these “leaders” remain anonymous, it’s reasonable to assume that if they represent a more or less random sampling of successful American filmmakers then their ranks almost certainly include more men than women, since the American film community as a whole is mostly men: male producers, male directors, male screenwriters, and male stars.
That being said, I think the AFI gave women a fair shake. If anything, their list seems to have had the benefit of a dose of affirmative action. Thus the inclusion of Cruella De Vil, the canine-killing baddie in Disney’s animated One Hundred and One Dalmatians (1961). A case can be made for the Evil Queen in Snow White and the Seven Dwarves (1937) because of the character’s impact on the broader culture, which is one of the AFI’s criteria for selection. But on a list that includes Hannibal Lecter, Nurse Ratched, and Amon Göth, the concentration camp commandant in Schindler’s List (1993)—wretches, in other words, who really send a frisson of fear down your spine—Cruella De Vil is as out of place as a demitasse cup at a monster truck rally.