Stranger Things cast member's role as Elephant Man criticised

  • img Harvey Cawdron
  • POSTED ON 30 Aug 2018


The BBC's choosing of Charlie Heaton in a remake of the Elephant Man has faced criticism from a disability charity. 

Heaton will portray the role of Joseph Merrick - who had severe physical deformities. 

Phil Talbot, Scope's head of communications, deemed the decision a 'missed opportunity' and said that 'a massive pool of disabled talent had been overlooked'. 

The BBC claimed it was currently in the process of casting a number of disabled actors in various key roles. 

Earlier this month, Heaton said he was 'extremely excited and honoured' to be selected for the role which he claimed was 'a challenge for any actor'. 

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

Scope deemed the decision to cast an able-bodied actor as a 'disappointing' one, because the Elephant Man is 'one of the most recognisable films to portray a disabled character'. 

They further said that '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.'

A BBC spokesperson 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.' 

Joseph Merrick's story has been told on the screen multiple times. 

He was born in 1862 and started to develop physical deformities to his skin, face, arms and feet at five years of age. 

He was eventually placed in a 'human oddities show' in London, in which he was exhibited as The Elephant Man. 

Frederick Treves, a doctor, observed him being publicly displayed in a shop and took him to the London Hospital, where he remained until his death in 1890. 

The role of Joseph has been previously undertaken by actors including Bradley Cooper, Mark Hamill, and the singer David Bowie.