The BBC is facing criticism from a disability charity for its decision to cast able-bodied Charlie Heaton as Joseph Merrick in its forthcoming adaptation of “The Elephant Man”.
Heaton will play Merrick, the well-known 19th-century man who suffered from severe face and body deformities, in a two-part BBC biopic drama. The story will focus on Merrick’s troubled life in Victorian London, particularly his childhood.
However, disability equality charity Scope has hit out at the BBC for choosing to cast the “Stranger Things” star over a disabled actor.
“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.
Talbot pointed out a “lack of diversity” in the industry: “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.
“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 BBC spokesperson 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.”
Merrick was previously portrayed on screen by John Hurt in David Lynch’s 1980 movie, and on stage by David Bowie and Bradley Cooper.
“The Elephant Man” remake is set to air in 2019.