Warning: Some spoilers ahead
You season 3 recently dropped on Netflix and debuted a great new cast of characters, including the charming librarian Dante.
Dante is Joe’s new coworker at the only library in town. He also happens to be blind.
But being blind is not Dante’s defining characteristic. He’s a well-rounded character with a personality and a family. He’s sweet and smart and is also actively trying to adopt a baby with his husband Lansing.
Perhaps the most impressive part of Dante’s character, however, is who they cast to play him: Ben Mehl. For those not familiar with the newcomer, Ben is actually visibility impaired himself (although not totally blind). Ben was diagnosed with a rare genetic form of macular degeneration called Stargardt’s disease while in college and currently has low vision. He told Authority Magazine,
“My vision deteriorated to the point where I could no longer read normal-sized text or recognize faces.”
There is no cure or treatment for the disease.
So, why is this a big deal? Because it’s a rarity that a blind character exists at all, let alone is played by an actually visually impaired actor. Name a single TV or movie character that’s blind and played by a visually impaired actor. I dare you. Can’t? Not surprising. Every blind character role (you know, the few that actually exist) is given to a seeing actor.
So when Ben saw that they were looking for a visually impaired actor to play Dante, he definitely wanted the role. He said,
“My role on You is my first role where I haven’t had to pretend to be able to see more than I actually can.”
“Something very cool about my role in the show is that Dante’s blindness is kind of inconsequential. [Showrunner] Sera Gamble was inspired by her blind godfather, and made Dante blind simply because some of us are blind and deserve to be represented.”
Ben is 100% right. While there have been a few blind characters in movies, there are even fewer on television. Perhaps the only blind character on TV right now is Murphy on In the Dark, who is — shocker! — played by a seeing actor (the showrunners claimed that they “tried” to find a blind actor but Patty Mettfeld was the only one they wanted for the role).
That said, Ben was still hesitant about whether or not he should take the role considering he is low vision and isn’t fully blind himself. He recalled,
“I did struggle with whether it was okay for me to be portraying someone who was totally blind. I recognize my privilege within this community in terms of how much sight I do have.”
In the end, he decided to go for it — but only after he did a lot of research and preparation first. Ben was committed to portraying a blind man as accurately as possible. He explained,
“It was very important for me to learn how to be accurate in my representation of him. I trained with an orientation and mobility specialist to learn the proper techniques for using a white cane.”
“I also spent hours observing and taking notes outside a building for blind residents in New York. I watched how people with experience use their canes. I gained a deep appreciation for the skill it takes to navigate the world without sight, and for the confidence and proficiency [that] I witnessed in people who have learned this skill. I brought all of that into my role.”
It’s clear that all of this hard work paid off. Ben Mehl is a total standout in the show, even playing a minor character. He’s completely lovable as Dante and it’s fair to say that fans were universally pleased with his character’s ending.
The last scene of Dante we’re given is that of him with his new family happily playing in a sandbox. In fact, Dante might have one of the only happily-ever-afters we got this season. And he definitely deserves it.
You can watch all three seasons of You on Netflix.