The BBC is facing backlash for its decision to cast able-bodied Charlie Heaton as Joseph Merrick in its adaptation of “The Elephant Man.”
Heaton, who currently stars in Netflix’s “Stranger Things,” will play the 19th-century man who suffered from severe face and body deformities. The story will focus on Merrick’s troubled life in Victorian London, particularly his childhood. But disability equality charity Scope has slammed the network for choosing to cast someone who isn’t disabled.
“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 recognizable films to portray a disabled character,” said Phil Talbot, Scope’s head of communications, according to Entertainment Tonight Canada.
Talbot also said the entertainment industry should be doing a better job of embracing diversity. “Disabled actors still often face huge barriers to break into the business. Not only are the roles few and far between but castings and locations are often not accessible” he continued.
“There is a massive pool of disabled talent being overlooked. The creative industries should be embracing and celebrating difference and diversity, not ignoring it.”
A spokesperson for the BBC responded to the criticism by saying, “‘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.”
John Hurt previously portrayed Merrick in David Lynch’s 1980 movie. The role has been played on stage by David Bowie and Bradley Cooper.
“The Elephant Man” remake is set to air in 2019.
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