BBC criticised for not casting disabled actor in ‘The Elephant Man’

"Disabled actors still often face huge barriers".

The BBC has faced backlash after failing to criticise a disabled actor in the forthcoming adaptation of The Elephant Man.

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The latest depiction of Joseph Merrick’s troubled life in Victorian freak shows will hit the small screen next year, with Stranger Things star Charlie Heaton in the lead role.

But the drama has now faced criticism from leading disability charity Scope, who say it is “disappointing” that an able-bodied actor will appear in the main role.  The BBC has since confirmed that disabled actors will star in other “key roles”.

Phil Talbot, head of communications for Scope, said: “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 recognisable films to portray a disabled character.”

Hitting out at a “lack of diversity”, he added: “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.

“There is a massive pool of disabled talent being overlooked. The creative industries should be embracing and celebrating difference and diversity, not ignoring it.”

Responding to the criticism, 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.

“Charlie Heaton, who plays the part of Joseph Merrick, will portray his journey from a young man to his death at the age of 27.”

The drama is set to follow the entirety of Merrick’s life, from his beginnings in Leicestershire until his eventual friendship with Dr Frederick Treves who looked after him at the London Hospital before his eventual death in 1890.

It will air in 2019.