Stranger Things star Charlie Heaton’s casting in next year’s Elephant Man disappoints PWD advocates.
We love Charlie Heaton, a.k.a the awkward but immensely brave big brother Jonathan Byers on the hugely successful Netflix show Stranger Things, but in today’s age of awareness and push for equal opportunities, his upcoming project seems to be a miss.
Heaton, who is very much able-bodied, is set to play Joseph Merrick in next year’s Elephant Man, a story about a man who began to develop physical deformities to his skin, face, arms, and feet when he was five years old, and as a result was exhibited in a ‘human oddities’ show for much of his life.
Additionally, the movie will chronicle Merrick’s friendship with Dr. Frederick Treves, who took him to live at the London Hospital until his death in 1890.
Merrick has previously been played by Bradley Cooper, David Bowie, and Mark Hamill in various adaptations of the story, noted Nylon.
Advocates for persons with disabilities in the United Kingdom say Heaton’s casting was a “missed opportunity” in considering people with actual disabilities who can act.
“A massive pool of disabled talent had been overlooked,” said Phil Talbot, a representative for Scope, a charitable organization for persons with disabilities based in the UK.
“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,” with Talbot adding that Elephant Man was one of the “one of the most recognizable” films in terms of depicting a disabled character.
“The creative industries should be embracing and celebrating difference and diversity, not ignoring it.”
Heaton has said he was ‘honored’ to take on the role, but so far has given no comment to the criticism on his casting.
Nylon also found that Louise Dyson, founder of the VisABLE talent agency, which aids actors, models, and other talent with disabilities into job opportunities in mainstream media, was ‘less than pleased’ with Heaton’s casting.
“We weren’t even given the chance to audition for the role,” Dyson said, adding that it was ‘irrespective’ of whether Heaton was the best person for the role, actors with actual disabilities should have at least been given a shot.
“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,” said Dyson.
A report on BBC News stated that “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.”