Most books, movies, tv shows, etc. all have clear protagonists and antagonists. For example, most children can identify that the Big Bad Wolf is a villain in Little Red Riding Hood and Maleficent is the villain in Sleeping Beauty. However, these one-sided stories do not leave room for understanding all perspectives. Oftentimes, media tells us who the villain is and as consumers, we follow those directions.
Revisionist media is becoming popular, though, that reimagines villains and humanizes them with backstories. The TV show “Once Upon a Time” is an example of reimagining common Disney villains. Movies like Maleficent or Cruella give backstory about these villains. Even musicals like Wicked provide the causation behind the villains in beloved classics.
These retellings of known stories highlight that all people have their own stories and perspectives that may be lost depending on how the story is told. There is a common phrase that you don’t truly know someone until you “walk a mile in their shoes.” These revisionist stories give viewers an opportunity to see the villain’s side of the story.
This strategy can be employed in mythology, pop culture, history, and other contexts. It reminds me of the TED talk “The Danger of the Single Story” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. This TED talk explains that misconceptions and misunderstandings happen when an individual only gets one side of the story. Adichie asserts, “The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.”
This TED talk captures the idea that popular stories oftentimes present only one perspective on who the villain and who the hero is. While this is not inherently bad and it makes for good stories, it can be damaging to consider only one point of view. There are two sides to every story and we encourage you to investigate as many different perspectives as possible. This is one of the fascinating parts of literature since each choice by the author, including a person (villain or hero), has a purpose and reason for their actions.