“It’s when adults stare and then keep on staring that I get fed up, as it’s just so rude,” says Marcus, 13.
The teenager was born with an unusual facial cleft and cleft palate.
Marcus, from Herefordshire, has endured staring from children and adults and a range of taunts such as “Scarface”, “Two-Face” and “the Joker” at school.
His story is uncannily similar to that of August Pullman in the book Wonder, the film of which is being released in UK cinema’s this week.
The film, based on R J Palacio’s book, stars Jacob Tremblay as August (Auggie), who was born with a facial difference, and Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson as his parents.
It explores how Auggie overcomes bullying and finds his place at school and how his struggle impacts on his parents and his older sister, Olivia (Via). The clear message of the film is “choose kind”.
Marcus and his mother, Sam, have already seen the film and say it addresses many of the issues they have faced – repeated operations, name-calling, staring.
“The comments that got me to start with were things like, ‘Oh, isn’t it a shame?'” says Sam.
“What’s a shame? He’s fine, he’s healthy, good grief.
“But I didn’t really notice people staring until he did and then he’d point out, ‘Mum, they’re staring at me,’ and I’d say, ‘No, they’re not, don’t be silly,’ because to me he was just Marcus, I didn’t see a difference really.
“But then, actually, after he said it you see people staring all the time and I’d say to him, ‘Just smile, because either they’ll be really embarrassed because they’ll realise they’re staring or they’ll just smile back.'”
Scans had not picked up any abnormality and, when Marcus was born, he was taken away from Sam for three hours.
She says: “The opening scene of the film is Julia Roberts giving birth, they’re in the labour room, the baby’s born, it’s the look of horror on the midwife’s face and the baby’s whisked away.
“I was in floods of tears in the first scene and Marcus just looked at me – he had tears in his eyes.
“Watching the movie, Marcus said afterwards, ‘Mum, apart from having a sibling, that’s our life, it was so close to what we’ve been through.'”
At about the age of seven, Marcus experienced some bullying at school.
He says: “They just called me names and just weren’t very nice, they called me names like Scarface, the Joker, Buttface, one said if they looked like me they would kill themselves.”
This is also mirrored in Wonder, when Auggie’s friend Jack says he would have to kill himself if he looked like Auggie.
Sam saw an advert for the disfigurement charity Changing Faces at their children’s hospital and attended a workshop for parents of children with facial disfigurements.
The charity estimates about 569,000 children, young people and adults in the UK live with a facial disfigurement.
Changing Faces also arranged to go into Marcus’s school and speak with teachers and pupils about the sorts of issues Marcus faced.
“Since then he’s not looked back,” says Sam, and the subsequent move to secondary school has been smooth.
“He’s had odd the comment, but he knows how to deal with it now, he doesn’t let it affect him and it’s not constant.”
Sam and Marcus hope Wonder will raise awareness of what life can be like for families living with facial disfigurement.
“Because it says, ‘Choose kind,’ I’m hoping that they will choose kind and become friends with people that have facial disfigurement, because it… informs them about what can happen,” says Marcus.
Sam says: “People don’t always realise quite how much of a hard time that children who look different have and how they do get a rough deal because kids, and some adults, can be cruel and it’s not nice, and the main part of the film is ‘choose kind’.
“It will open a lot of people’s eyes to realise what families do have to go through – how nasty kids can be and how pants life can seem sometimes but actually it’s never quite as bad as you think.”
Hopes for the future
Sam is confident for Marcus’s future, saying he’s outgoing, sociable and “if he wants to do something, he will do his damn hardest to do it”.
Marcus is a keen trampolinist and has competed at both regional and national level.
“Everyone has always accepted me for who I am and have never asked why I look like I do or stared,” he says of his hobby.
“I have had a few second glances at competitions but everyone respects you for what you can do, not what you look like.”
In terms of the future romantically, Sam hopes Marcus will find a special person, just like anyone else.
“Nobody knows what they future holds but I think he’s such a nice kind kid that hopefully somebody will look past that he looks slightly different,” she says.
“It’s hard because I’m quite naive and think everybody will look past that, but not everybody does so I’m a little apprehensive maybe when it comes to relationships and things like that, you know, maybe it’s not going to be quite so easy.
“But I’m sure he’ll thrive and go on to find a nice girl. But nobody’s going to be good enough – ever!” she laughs.