Challenging negative portrayals of visible differences

Our response to the ITAE Productions event ‘Dinner and Dissection - The Elephant Man show’.

Over the past few weeks, we have been contacted by members of the visible difference community to alert us to an event that is currently being promoted by ITAE Productions, part of the ITAE Group. The event is referred to as ‘Dinner and Dissection – The Elephant Man’ and is due to be held in Newcastle in October, before a UK wide tour in 2022.

Changing Faces has written to and requested to meet with ITAE Group, so we could explain our concerns about how this event is being promoted. Unfortunately, this request was rejected by ITAE Group.

If individuals who are currently living with a particular condition raise concerns about how their condition is being portrayed, we think it is important to respect their lived experience.

Catherine Deakin, Deputy Chief Executive

Catherine Deakin, Changing Faces Deputy Chief Executive, says: “Changing Faces is passionate about using education as a tool to challenge discrimination and prejudice that people with visible differences – scars, marks and conditions that affect appearance – still sadly contend with today.

“We recognise that medical professionals and others must be supported to learn about anatomy and complex conditions. However, we have serious concerns that the marketing of ITAE Productions latest Dinner & Dissection event takes the body, and condition, of Joseph Merrick, often referred to as the ‘Elephant Man’ and treats it as a spectacle.

“We urge ITAE Productions to take further steps to amend the marketing materials promoting this event and in particular to work closely with the Proteus Syndrome Foundation UK and PROS (PIK3CA Related Overgrowth Spectrum) charities, whose community includes those who have the same condition that Joseph Merrick was believed to have had.

“If individuals who are currently living with a particular condition raise concerns about how their condition is being portrayed, we think it is important to respect their lived experience and expertise.”

Changing Faces campaigns for a society where anyone with a visible difference can live the life they want, free from prejudice and discrimination. We challenge outdated stereotypes and tropes that have been perpetuated for decades. For too long differences have been portrayed as negative, as a shorthand for villainy or something to be ridiculed.

We have serious concerns that the marketing of ITAE Productions latest Dinner & Dissection event takes the body, and condition, of Joseph Merrick, often referred to as the ‘Elephant Man’ and treats it as a spectacle.

Catherine Deakin, Deputy Chief Executive

It is well-documented that Merrick’s own life and experiences with both medical professionals and those working in the entertainment business at the time was complicated. Now, when educating those who are pursuing a career in anatomy or medicine or members of the public who want to learn more about a particular condition, we have the benefit of that hindsight. It is not acceptable or necessary to recreate a Victorian style ‘entertainment’ about a serious, life-threatening condition in a bid to sell tickets.

Changing Faces will once again request to meet with ITAE Group, and we will also be raising our concerns with the relevant industry bodies and regulators.

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