Disney’s The Lone Ranger – Shame on You

The Cleft Lip and Palate Association of Ireland (CLAPAI) would advise parents to be prepared for the forthcoming release of the Disney movie “The Lone Ranger”, due out on the 9th August, certificate 12a.

Disney describes the villain of the movie (Cavendish) as “a ruthless outlaw whose terribly scarred face is a perfect reflection of the bottomless pit that passes for his soul”.

The scar is recognisable as a scar resulting from a cleft lip. There is no doubt that this is what the movie sets out to do.  Joel Harlow, the film’s makeup artist, says “William Fichtner, who plays Butch Cavendish required, not only silicone prosthetics, but also a dental prosthetic to force his lip into a cleft” (read the interview). William Fichner the actor says, when asked about acting under the make up, “You know,  I have the prosthetic broken nose, the whole cleft lip…”

The association of evil with a facial birth defect is hard to take.  It will be shocking for older children and adults who happen to see the movie on its release. Younger children will come across the character through Lego, the toy manufacturer having brought out a range of toys to accompany the movie, a range that includes the character Cavendish complete with cleft lip.

To be clear, the problem is not that a movie character has a cleft or that Lego have duplicated the cleft.  The problem is the deliberate association of a cleft with evil.

It is also difficult to reconcile the effort that the makeup artists went to in order to duplicate a cleft, and the upset they have caused, with the lifetime of dedicated work that medical specialists put in to ever improving cleft surgical outcomes in order to give children born with cleft a better chance in life.

Unfortunately, with household names like Disney and Lego, the impact of the Lone Ranger’s depiction of cleft is not likely to go away.  Generations to come will have to deal with this movie.


First – it may be that your child or their friends will not make the connection between the person on screen and cleft lip – so do not panic.

On the other hand – they may make the connection themselves so be prepared to answer their questions and give them some assurance. Try to provide an answer that they can use themselves if their friends ask questions.

There is a chance that their school pals will make a connection even if your child does not.  It may lead them to question your child about their scar or it may lead them to think that your child should be the ‘baddie’ in whatever the current schoolyard games are.  Even if you have not discussed the Lone Ranger movie with your child, it might be time to have a general discussion and quietly arm your child with simple answers that they can use in the playground.  It might be worth advising other adults, such as parents of friends and teachers, to be on the lookout for any issues.

For teenagers, once warned, they may choose not to go to the movie.  On the other hand when the movie is brought out on DVD, as it inevitable will be, they may inadvertently end up at someone’s house stuck watching a movie that makes them uncomfortable.  A discussion now about how to handle that type of situation might help. Maybe broaden the conversation as to how the media in general treats people with facial difference. It could well help with perspective and help your teenager feel that they are not alone.
See Changing Faces “Face Equality on Film“.

Further reading:

Disney – The Character Butch Cavendish.
The Lone Ranger – character with facial scarring Changing Faces (UK Support Group).
Disney’s The Lone Ranger and the Portrayal of Cleft Lip (CLAPA UK).

Media Responses:

Disney’s Lone Ranger criticised by disability campaigners (The Telegraph).
Disney’s Lone Ranger sparks anger as birth defect is used to make villain Butch Cavendish ‘look more evil’ (The Independent)
The Lone Ranger hit by protest over cleft lip (The Guardian)
Parents of children with cleft lip rue The Lone Ranger movie (The Star)

Issued by Georgina Wade, Committee member and Chairperson, CLAPAI

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One Comment

  1. We are the market. We need to reject this.