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What V’s Guy Fawkes Mask in ‘V for Vendetta’ Means After All This Time


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V for Vendetta tracks the events which follow V and Evey’s meeting, including Evey completing V’s work to bring down the Norsefire government and liberate England, but it is V who we should focus on. V’s personal history is unknown and, ultimately, irrelevant. What is important is understanding he was once person targeted for some aspect of his identity, sent to an English concentration camp, experimented on, and a survivor who forced to take cover. V crafted for himself an identity which instantly recalls one of England’s most iconic revolutionaries. In doing so, V is now simply a man in a mask. He could be any man, woman, person, or child. He becomes the manifestation of the very human desire to rebel against oppression and injustice, and lives up to that manifestation throughout the movie.


Image via Warner Bros.

What are the real-world origins of the Fawkes mask, you ask? The image of the Fawkes mask which has become the template for the actual mask now owned by Warner Bros. (womp, womp) was created by illustrator David Lloyd for the V for Vendetta three-part graphic novel series, which was written by Alan Moore. Lloyd’s illustrated mask was based on existing illustrations of Fawkes, the actual person behind what has become known as the “Gunpowder Plot.” In brief, the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 saw Fawkes team with a group of  English Catholics led by Robert Catesby (portrayed by Kit Harington on the mostly forgotten 2017 HBO limited series Gunpowder). The ultimate aim of this group was to blow up the Parliament Building in London as part of as assassination attempt on King James I, whose treatment of English Catholics was #NotAtAllChill, even though it was comparatively better than before his reign. Fawkes and his explosives were discovered before the deed could be done, with he and his cohorts meeting a swift end. Over time, the Gunpowder Plot has come to symbolize what kind of revolutionary, memorable, motivating, radical statements are possible when the people band together to make a point to a smaller governing body.

Few cultural trinkets, in addition to the image of Fawkes’ visage-as-mask, serve as a reminder of the Gunpowder Plot. There is Bonfire Night, a.k.a. Guy Fawkes Night, which is celebrated on November 5 (because of course it is) with music, roaring public bonfires, and plenty of Fawkes masks and/or effigies to go around. There is also this neat little nursery rhyme, which you hear a variation of in V for Vendetta:

“Remember, remember,

The Fifth of November,

Gunpowder treason and plot;

For I see no reason

The Gunpowder treason

Should ever be forgot.”


Image via Warner Bros.

Meanwhile, the Fawkes mask has gone on to be adopted by the people, generally speaking. Going from a kind of toy children would wear in the decades most immediately following the Gunpowder Plot, the Fawkes mask has been adopted in the last decade-plus by protesters, hackers, political activists, and most famously the collective known as Anonymous’s Project Chanology. Anonymous began using the mask as early as 2008 but quickly helped make the mask popular during the 2011 Occupy Wall Street movement, with supporters donning the mask to quickly telegraph their protests against big banking and economic inequality. At the time of the mask’s emergence into the mainstream in 2011, Lloyd gave his approval, telling the BBC:

“The Guy Fawkes mask has now become a common brand and a convenient placard to use in protest against tyranny – and I’m happy with people using it, it seems quite unique, an icon of popular culture being used this way. […] My feeling is the Anonymous group needed an all-purpose image to hide their identity and also symbolize that they stand for individualism — V for Vendetta is a story about one person against the system.”

Well, a history lesson is all fine and good, but why should that make you care about the Fawkes mask? November 5, 2020 marks the 415th anniversary of the Gunpowder Plot. November 5th also roughly marks five months after nationwide protests against police brutality and in support of the lives of Black Americans. November 5th is just two days after what some believe to be a definitive to election which will actually decide the fate of our country. Perhaps I bring all of this up now to remind you that this coming November 5th is an especially important one for all of the reasons and more which I cannot name. Perhaps I bring this up because I see the Fawkes mask, without fail, at protests happening now whether they are physically on the faces of those out in the streets or whether the spirit of the mask lives on in the actions of others. Regardless, it is hard to escape just how relevant this movie and, specifically, the mask worn by V have become.


Image via Warner Bros.

It’s kind of incredible, really, that a now corporate-owned piece of movie iconography has become — and remains! —  a symbol of resistance against the overextended, greedy, controlling hands of government and big corporations, against oppression, racism, sexism, theocratic injustice, economic inequality, and any other major factor or ideology which does not value the populace. The mask is worth embracing, V for Vendetta implores us, not because of who wore it in the movie or who is it based on, but for what they represent. Ideas, as V tells us, are bulletproof. The mask is as much an idea as it is a conduit for the many ideas we carry within us, emboldening us to take action right now.

V for Vendetta is now available to watch on Netflix. For more, listen to Collider’s own Matt Goldberg and Adam Chitwood revisiting V for Vendetta on the Collider.com Podcast.


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