An open letter to Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk, and Ian Brennan, creators of “Scream Queens”, and Rupert Murdoch, CEO of Fox
It has come to my attention that the latest episode of “Scream Queens,” entitled “Warts and All,” prominently features a character (described as “hideous” in the episode summary) who states that he has Neurofibromatosis Type 1. While I understand that the Chanel characters are always horrible people, I take issue with the episode title and description, as well as the line the NF1 character, Tyler, utters: “Look at me, I’m a monster!”
You see, my 2-year-old son, Benji, was one of the 1 in 3,000 births in the U.S. in 2014 who have NF1. I do not appreciate perpetuating stereotypes about the more visible (and rare) aspects of his condition. His life is complicated enough, given that he has increased chances of vision- or life-threatening brain and nerve tumors, repeated MRI scans to keep an eye on these things, and a 1 in 2 chance of dealing with learning disabilities once he reaches school. The last thing he needs is for shows like this to show his genetic condition in a negative light, treating him as some sort of beast to be rejected. The title is also misleading; NF1 causes tumors, not warts.
I am surprised that a show created by the makers of GLEE, a show that prided itself on teaching tolerance of groups that are often marginalized (LGBTQ, the disabled), has chosen to spread misinformation on one of the most common genetic disorders, implying that a C02 laser can easily take care of an extreme case of NF1 tumors. Between the fact that they can often grow back and that they also are commonly plexiform, or are wrapped around nerves and thus inoperable, this gives the misinformed public more ammunition to hurl at an unsuspecting person with NF1: “why don’t you just get them bumps zapped off?”
My concerns are already founded if you take a look at a few online recaps of the episode. One writer only referred to Tyler’s character as “Bubble Man.” I feel fortunate that my son is not visibly affected by the condition yet and may never develop the subcutaneous tumors featured on your show, but I shudder to think of what remarks may meet the students with NF1 from classmates having been presented with the “monster” of Tyler. Will they start asking their classmate if he or she will look like that? Children with NF1 are more likely to have executive functioning (organization) problems as well as stress and anxiety; you have done these children a disservice by spreading fear and ignorance with your popular platform rather than using it to educate and teach tolerance as you have in the past.
You still have a chance to make this right. Create a PSA to air at the end of a future episode sharing correct information on the condition, its commonality and its treatment options. Encourage viewers to find correct information at credible sources such as the Children’s Tumor Foundation (CTF.org). You can make a donation to a local Cupid’s Undie Run to raise funds for research and awareness for those fighting NF. Better yet, participate!
You can do better than this. Please return to your better instincts rather than portraying a real condition dealt with by about 100,000 Americans, including children, as a candidate for a freak show.