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Stranger Things star's role as Elephant Man criticised

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A disability charity has criticised a show set to appear on the BBC for casting Charlie Heaton in a remake of the Elephant Man.

The Stranger Things actor will play Joseph Merrick - who had severe physical deformities.

Phil Talbot from Scope called the decision a "missed opportunity" and claimed "a massive pool of disabled talent had been overlooked".

Disabled actors will have "key roles", a spokesperson for the show said.

image captionThere have been several adaptations detailing the life of Joseph Merrick

Earlier this month Charlie Heaton revealed he was "extremely excited and honoured" to be given the role which he described as "a challenge for any actor".

The 24-year-old British star's popularity has rocketed since playing Jonathan Byers in the Netflix sci-fi drama Stranger Things, which first aired in 2016.

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image captionCharlie Heaton plays Jonathan Byers in Stranger Things

Scope said the decision to cast an able-bodied actor for the role was "disappointing" as The Elephant Man is "one of the most recognisable films to portray a disabled character".

"This is a missed opportunity but sadly, a lack of diversity in the industry is nothing new.

"Disabled actors still often face huge barriers to break in to the business, not only are the roles few and far between, but castings and locations are often not accessible.

"The creative industries should be embracing and celebrating difference and diversity, not ignoring it."


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Another critic of production company New Pictures's decision to cast an able-bodied actor in the role is Louise Dyson, founder of the VisABLE talent agency.

"It's not a great surprise it's just a huge disappointment that we weren't even given the chance to audition for the role," she told Newsbeat.

"Irrespective of whether Charlie Heaton is the best person for the role, actors with disabilities were not even given the chance."

Louise Dyson started the company 24 years ago with the goal of getting presenters, actors and models with a disability into mainstream media projects.

Her clients have featured in shows like EastEnders, Casualty and Call The Midwife.

'Extra dimension'

Louise said she wants to see a change that allows talent with a disability to play everyday characters like lawyers, shopkeepers or the local butcher.

Louise said: In this case I have a strong feeling that an actor with personal experiences of physical difference could potentially have brought an extra dimension to this role.

"How will these actors ever get roles or a break if they're not even considered in the first place."

A New Pictures spokesperson said: "The Elephant Man is an iconic drama that has had an important role to play in highlighting changing attitudes to disability and we are currently in the process of casting disabled actors in a variety of key roles."

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image captionJohn Hurt played John Merrick in a 1980 adaptation

The story of Joseph Merrick has been told several times on screen.

He was born in 1862 and began developing physical deformities to his skin, face, arms and feet at five years old.

He eventually found himself in a "human oddities show" in London where he was exhibited as The Elephant Man.

A doctor called Frederick Treves saw him being publicly displayed in a shop and took him to the London Hospital where he lived until his death in 1890.

Actors including Bradley Cooper, Mark Hamill and singer David Bowie have all previously played Joseph.

The latest adaptation of the Elephant Man is due to be screened on the BBC next year.

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Related Topics

  • Netflix
  • BBC
  • Stranger Things

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