Who plays Dustin in Stranger Things
A lisping actor - is that possible?
By Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ, United States of America
Despite his illness and the resulting lisp, the actor Gaten Matarazzo plays a leading role in the series "Stranger Things".
Actors have to bring a variety of skills with them: including empathy, observation and clear pronunciation - one might think.
A 15-year-old young actor from the US series “Stranger Things”, whose second season started in October 2017, shows that the last point is not a mandatory requirement. Gaten Matarazzo plays the student Dustin, who is laughed at because of his missing front teeth and slurred pronunciation.
Not only the film character, but also the actor himself is affected by dressocranial dysplasia (dresso = clavicle, cranial = headward, dysplasia = malformation, underdevelopment). The disease affects bone and tooth growth. It includes, among other things, an underdeveloped - or, as in Matarazzo's case, nonexistent - collarbone, which affects the growth of the teeth. They either grow misaligned or not at all. Sufferers have to undergo several operations.
Gaten Matarazzo was turned down from many roles in film due to his visual and audible limitations before he got a lead role in "Stranger Things". Now he wants to raise awareness of his rare disease, for example by selling sweaters and t-shirts, the proceeds of which will go to people with dressocranial dysplasia. A cartoon character with a charming tooth-gap smile is depicted on the clothing.
The disease is only mentioned briefly once in the series. In the corresponding scene, a couple of classmates laugh at Dustin about it. He countered that his teeth would still grow. He just had dressocranial dysplasia. Whether that is enough to raise awareness among viewers - who are not speech therapists - is questionable.
On the other hand, the disease does not take up too much space. It does not define the character of the film, but is simply “still there”. Dustin is portrayed as an intelligent, socially competent and humorous youth whose limitations only marginally affect his life; far from the stereotypical representation of the lisping fool, which unfortunately also exists.
I would like more sick or disabled people to have a chance like the producers of “Stranger Things” gave Matarazzo. More characters like Dustin could contribute to this. The handicap should not be at the center of the action or define the person, because it doesn't do that in real life either.
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