Disability rights campaigners have attacked the BBC, claiming able-bodied actors playing disabled characters is the same as racist acts like “blacking up”.
The BBC is currently remaking The Elephant Man, a film about Joseph Merrick, a severely disfigured man who lived in 19th century England, and a non-disabled actor called Charlie Heaton is to play the lead role.
Heaton, who rose to prominence in the hit Netflix series Stranger Things, will play Joseph Merrick in the remake of the award-winning 1980 American film.
Louise Dyson, a founder of the disabled actors’ agency VisABLE, said the casting decision was the equivalent of white people “blacking up”.
“I am not exaggerating,” she told The Telegraph. “It is unacceptable to not even try.
“Nobody is suggesting they should have to compromise in the quality of casting but they [actors with disabilities] should at least be given a chance.”
She added: “If actors with disabilities are not given the chance to even try for a role which is disability specific, what hope is there of any work at all when they are still so rarely being cast in non-disabled roles?”
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Adam Pearson, a Bafta-nominated British actor with the same condition Merrick was thought to have, said: “To get a non-disabled actor to tell the story of a historical disabled figure is outrageous.
“It is the only minority where this would be acceptable. It is ‘cripping up’. If it was someone blacking up there would be uproar.”
Phil Talbot, from the disability charity Scope, also slammed the BBC and claimed they had “missed an opportunity”.
“A lack of diversity in the industry is nothing new,” he told The Mirror. “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.
“The creative industries should be embracing and celebrating difference and diversity, not ignoring it.”
A spokesman for the programme 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.”
Celebrities such as Bradley Cooper, Mark Hamill, and David Bowie have taken on the role in the past in plays and other remakes of the film.