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Dustin from Stranger Things Talks About Disability and Representation

“Stranger Things” has been the surprise hit show on Netflix this year, and one character in particular has won hearts all around the world. His name is Dustin Henderson, and he has amassed a serious cult following since the series started. Ironically, despite his popularity Gaten Matarazzo – the actor who plays Dustin – has spoken about how hard it is for him to find acting jobs.

The reason?

He has cleidocranial dysplasia, a rare condition that affects the development of the teeth and bones.

Opening up on “The Johnathon Ross Show” earlier this year, Gaten talked about his disability: “It’s a condition where you are born without your collarbones; I don’t have any. It affects your facial growth, your skull growth, it affects your teeth. That’s why I don’t have any – these are fake – I have teeth but they’re all baby teeth.”

It took two years and hundreds of rejections before he finally landed his first job.

“Stranger Things” has been the smash hit of the year, and the actor who plays Dustin has become – if not a recognised name – a widely recognised face. His beaming smile and cracking sense of wit propels the narrative, a supernatural thriller that pays homage to many of the great 80s films. The central storyline involves a group of young boys who are looking for a friend that goes missing – and without giving anything away, the plot makes the movie “Alien” look tame.

The writers of the hit series wrote Gaten’s disability into the show but it never defines his character, and apart from a couple of scenes where the local bullies tease him about his teeth they never delve into it any further. Dustin is simply portrayed as an adorably sassy pre-teen who hangs out with his buddies, loves playing “Dungeons and Dragons” and rides around on his BMX trying to solve the mystery of his missing friend.

People have responded favorably since Gaten spoke about his condition, and his goals are twofold: to raise awareness and to show people that disability is nothing to be ashamed of. Let’s hope that Hollywood is learning from Gaten’s popularity and the runaway success of “Stranger Things”, and are much more open to casting people with disabilities and visible differences moving forward – because everyone benefits from diverse representation in the media.

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