Thousands of hopefuls auditioned for the lead role of a blind character in an epic WWII drama series for Netflix based on a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. But the producers of All the light that we can’t see chose a student with no formal acting training who is registered blind, a move that has been hailed by disability rights activists.
Although Aria Mia Loberti has no formal training, her natural abilities led her to be chosen for a four-part adaptation of Anthony Doerr’s novel. She will play Marie-Laure, a blind teenager whose path collides with Werner, a German soldier, as they try to survive the ravages of war in Nazi-occupied France.
The book is being adapted by Steven Knight, the British creator of the Bafta-winning gangster drama. Peaky blinders, whose acclaimed films include Dirty pretty things, a thriller about illegal immigrants in London, starring Chiwetel Ejiofor and directed by Stephen Frears.
âShe’s done several auditions which are absolutely remarkable,â Knight said. “She is incredible.” When asked if such natural acting talent could ever be taught, he replied, âYou can perfect it. I don’t think you can learn it. You were born with it. She has it. So we were very lucky.
Last weekend, actress Rose Ayling-Ellis captivated audiences by winning Come dance strictly as the competition’s very first deaf competitor, proving, as she put it, “Deaf people can do it all”.
For Loberti, being chosen for such a high-profile production is just as important to the blind and visually impaired, for whom she campaigned. She said: âI have a rare and severe form of a genetic eye disease called achromatopsia. As a result, I am completely blind in some environments and have minimal and variable residual vision in others. When my father left, people said I was brave. But that’s not bravery; I do not have a choice. I wake up and live my life. Are you not doing the same? “
Lauren Appelbaum from Respectability, a nonprofit dedicated to changing the way society views people with disabilities, said, âNetflix is ââreally going to be able to play a role in changing these stigmas surrounding what it means to be blind. Just because you’re blind doesn’t mean you can’t be an actress in a major roleâ¦ It’s not overcoming blindness or despite being blind. It turns out that she is blind and that she will play this role.
Appelbaum, who herself has a disability, added: âIt is almost impossible to truly represent a person with a disability without having that disability. The nuances you can bring to this role are just going to make this character a lot more dynamic. You don’t run the risk of the actor making a mistake that would show this to be an inauthentic casting, which I have seen happen time and time again.
The novel has grown into a global phenomenon, selling over 15 million copies after its publication in 2014. In the Observer, Justin Cartwright wrote: âIt is easy to see why Doerr’s book is considered by many to be an epic and a masterpiece. the New York TimesThe reviewer criticized its author “for having lost sleep because once I started reading his new novel … there was no way to let go.”
Loberti was similarly inspired when she decided to audition for the screen adaptation after hearing about the casting search from a former teacher.
She is currently a PhD candidate in Rhetoric at Penn State University in Pennsylvania, having this year completed her Masters in Ancient Rhetoric at Royal Holloway, University of London as a US-UK Fulbright Fellow.
In a statement, she described the book as a âcomplex story of hope, forgiveness, power and resilienceâ¦ Not in a million years did I think something like this would ever happen to meâ¦ I am very lucky. Luckier, more humble and grateful than I can express.
The drama is directed by Shawn Levy, whose previous productions include Strange things and the Night at the museum franchise. Of Loberti’s casting, he said, âWe have traveled the world and reviewed thousands of auditions. We never thought our path would lead to someone who not only has never performed professionally, but has never auditioned before.
“It was a breathtaking moment when we first saw Aria Mia Loberti, who is both a natural performer and a disability advocateâ¦ I can’t wait to tell this beautiful story with her at the center.”