Disability charity Scope has criticised the BBC’s decision to cast Stranger Things star Charlie Heaton as Joseph Merrick in their upcoming adaptation of The Elephant Man as “disappointing”.
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Scope’s head of communications Phil Talbot said that the casting was a “missed opportunity”, and that a “massive pool of disabled talent had been overlooked”.
It was announced last week that the young British star would play the lead role – a man with severe physical deformities – in BBC1’s upcoming two-part biopic.
“It’s disappointing that a disabled actor has not been cast in the remake of The Elephant Man, as it’s one of the most recognisable films to portray a disabled character,” Talbot said according to the BBC. “This is a missed opportunity but sadly, a lack of diversity in the industry is nothing new.”
In addition, Louise Dyson, founder of disable actors’ agency VisABLE compared the casting of able-bodied actors in roles as disabled people to white people “blacking up” in an interview with the Telegraph.
“Nobody is suggesting they should have to compromise in the quality of casting but they [actors with disabilities] should at least be given a chance,” she said.
In response to Scope’s criticism, New Pictures, the production studio behind the drama, confirmed that it is working to cast disabled actors in “key roles”.
“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,” a New Pictures spokesperson said.
The Elephant Man is expected to air on BBC1 next year.