Stranger Things star’s role as Elephant Man criticised

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Stranger Things star's role as Elephant Man criticised

Image copyright Getty Images

A disability charity has criticised the BBC's decision to cast Charlie Heaton in a remake of the Elephant Man.

The Stranger Things actor will play Joseph Merrick – who had severe physical deformities.

Phil Talbot from Scope described the decision as a "a missed opportunity" and claimed "a massive pool of disabled talent had been overlooked".

The BBC said it was in the process of casting disabled actors in a variety of key roles.

Image caption There have been several adaptations detailing the life of Joseph Merrick

Earlier this month Charlie Heaton revealed he was "extremely excited and honoured" to be given the role which he described as "a challenge for any actor".

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

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Charlie Heaton plays Jonathan Byers in Stranger Things

Scope said the decision to cast an able-bodied actor for the role was "disappointing" as The Elephant Man is "one of the most recognisable films to portray a disabled character".

"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 said: "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."

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The story of Joseph Merrick has been told several times on screen.

He was born in 1862 and began developing physical deformities to his skin, face, arms and feet at five years old.

He eventually found himself in a "human oddities show" in London where he was exhibited as The Elephant Man.

A doctor called Frederick Treves saw him being publicly displayed in a shop and took him to the London Hospital where he lived until his death in 1890.

Actors including Bradley Cooper, Mark Hamill and singer David Bowie have all previously played Joseph.

The BBC's latest adaptation of the Elephant Man is due to be screened next year.

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