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Treatment of epilepsy in films reviewed

27 November, 2003

The film industry
continues to depict many ancient stereotypes associated with epilepsy,
according to a review of epilepsy in films published in The
Lancet Neurology
.

Dr Sallie Baxendale
from the Institute of Neurology in London outlined the portrayal
of epilepsy and related disorders in 62 movies across four continents,
covering nine cinematic genres - from Hollywood
blockbusters to small independent cult movies with subject matters
as diverse as Walt Disney's 'Snow White and the
Seven Dwarfs' to 'JFK'.

She writes that
while similar reviews of epilepsy in literature have suggested
a progression
in the understanding of epilepsy over
time, analysis of the film industry highlights many of the ancient
beliefs and stereotypes surrounding epilepsy including demonic or
divine possession, genius, lunacy, and delinquency.

Dr Baxendale
commented:

"There
are many stereotypes surrounding the portrayal of epilepsy in the
film industry. For example, there
is a strong gender bias in the ways in which epilepsy is portrayed.
Male characters with idiopathic epilepsy [epilepsy with no known
cause] tend to be mad, bad, and are frequently dangerous, whereas
the same disorder in their female counterparts evokes exotic intrigue
and vulnerability.

"Most characters
with post-traumatic epilepsy are portrayed as heroes triumphing
over the odds. The dramatic potential
of seizures is highly tempting to writers and directors with
fertile imaginations and perhaps this is as it should be. It is
not for the
medical profession to dictate or censor cinematic content. Nevertheless,
a keen eye on these depictions will help us to understand and
perhaps combat some of the stereotypes and myths that continue
to surround
epilepsy."