Joseph Carey Merrick (5 August 1862 – 11 April 1890) was an English man born with very severe face and body deformities. He was known as the ‘Elephant Man’ and was first exhibited at a freak show – after which he went to live at the London Hospital.
In 1884, Merrick contacted a showman named Sam Torr and proposed that Torr should exhibit him. He did so, firstly in the East Midlands and then in London. And now his character is engulfed in another major incident as the BBC has decided that an able-bodied actor, Charlie Heaton (pictured above), should play him in their new adaption of his life.
But the charity SCOPE has said that it is disappointed adding that the BBC ought to have used an actor who was disabled.
Philip Talbot, head of communications at 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. It’s a missed opportunity but, sadly, a lack of diversity in the industry is nothing new.”
Philp Talbot, head of communications at SCOPE
He went on to add; “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 acceptable.
There is a massive pool of talent being overlooked. The creative industries should be embracing and celebrating difference and diversity, not ignoring it.”
Hollywood Actress, Eileen Grubba
Eileen Grubba has, for years and years, been arguing for more diversity and disability inclusion in the entertainment industry. And as someone who understands what it means to be looked at differently because of her disability, her hope is not to be given special treatment, but for actors to be simply given equal opportunity.
“The big issue,” she says, “for why there is a clear lack of characters in film played by actors with disabilities, stems from common perceptions regarding the broad range of diversity within the disabled community and the perceived lack of ability that often surrounds people with disabilities.”
Eileen Grubba as ‘Precious Ryan’ in Sons of Anarchy
In describing her own experience tapping into her pain to bring out emotions in her characters, she says; “I have depth that I don’t think a whole lot of people really trully understand.”
Adding, “They might think they do, but until you’ve lived most of your life in the kind of pain that would drop most people, and dealt with cancer, and faced rejection after rejection and absolute humiliation at the hands of so many people, the depth that I’m talking about is so rich and scary, that I don’t think a whole lot of people can manufacture that level emotion as completely and as deeply. That’s what these challenges do to you. They make you unique, edgy and absolutely resilient.”
The ‘British Film Industry’ has often stated its role in their commitment to diversity. “As the lead body for film, and in our role as a public funder and a lottery distributor, it’s essential that the BFI represents a contemporary Britain – in the films we fund and show, the audiences who watch them, and the film makers, actors and crews who make them.”
“Film has the potential to be the most representative and diverse art form of our age – to reflect changing attitudes, people landscape – but we are not there yet!”
“And with under-representation there is a similar story for people with disabilities. According to the office of national statistics, 14% of people in employment aged 16-64 considered themselves disabled. However, the 2012 Creative Skillset employment census shows that only 0.3% of the total film workforce are disabled (2% in production, 0.1% in exhibition and none in distribution).”