Aria Mia Loberti (MRes Rhetoric, 2021) has been cast for the leading role in the Netflix series ‘All the Light We Cannot See’. Aria will play “Marie-Laure”, the blind teenager at the heart of the story, whose path collides with Werner, a German soldier, as they both try to survive the devastation of World War II in occupied France.
Original press release image by Ryan Collerd.
A recent Fulbright Scholar at Royal Holloway, current PhD student in Rhetoric at Pennsylvania State University and former United Nations Youth Delegate, Aria Mia Loberti decided to try out after learning about the casting search for blind and low vision actresses from a former childhood teacher. Aria had previously read the book and was a fan of the story, which became a global phenomenon when it was published in 2014. The book has received wide critical acclaim as well as a Pulitzer Prize in 2015, and the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction in 2015. All the Light We Cannot See has spent more than 200 weeks on the New York Times best-seller list, and has sold more than 5.7 million copies in North America across print.
Despite having no formal acting training, Aria beat thousands of submissions to secure the role of the heroic protagonist. Director and Executive Producer Shawn Levy states that “To find an actress to play the iconic Marie-Laure - a young blind woman whose greatest strength is the tenacity of her hope and the power of her voice across the airwaves during wartime - was no small challenge. We searched the world and reviewed thousands of auditions. We never thought our path would lead to someone who has not only never acted professionally, but never auditioned before. It was a jaw-drop moment when we first saw Aria Mia Loberti, who is both a natural performer and an advocate for disability equity and representation. I can’t wait to tell this beautiful story with her at the centre.”
Aria has commented that she would have never though she would get this opportunity ‘in a million years.’ ‘I am sensitive to the extent of this responsibility’, she says, ‘and what this character means for blind and disabled people, blind girls in particular. A blind lead portrayed by a blind actor. This is a significant leap forward for disability inclusion, rights, and representation on screen and beyond. I will never not feel the weight of that, and I will bear it proudly and use it as a catalyst for positive change, equity, and breaking down barriers.
Despite its many highs, my life has never been an easy one, filled with its fair share of obstacles, traumas, and battles. The same with Marie. Though the landscape through which Marie moves is different from my own, our spirit is the same. Marie will take root on screen as a fully independent, fully realized, and fully empowered character. I look forward to bringing this incredible story to life, and I’m so excited for you to all meet her.’
Aria will be acting alongside Mark Ruffalo and Hugh Laurie. She posted on Instagram that ‘“Honoured” is not a powerful enough word. I can’t believe I will be sharing the screen with two of my favourite actors. Mark Ruffalo and Hugh Laurie have been cast as my character’s father and great-uncle. So grateful and excited and humbled to get to tell this incredible story with such inimitable storytellers! I cannot believe this is reality.’
Coming to study at Royal Holloway in the heart of the pandemic and moving to the UK with only her Guide Dog, was certainly ‘an exciting challenge’, Aria states. Yet within Royal Holloway’s welcoming and vibrant community, she found, she says, a ‘warm place that I felt supported in the entire time.’’.
As a recipient of the US-UK Fulbright Award, Aria reveals that she would not have been able to attend Royal Holloway without it. She states that the award ‘made it financially possible for me to take the leap across the pond. I am deeply grateful for the incredible academic and personal experience I had at Royal Holloway. I am particularly grateful to Michelle Anderson in Housing for all her time ensuring that everything was accessible.’
The initial reason why she chose to study at Royal Holloway was because of the vast opportunities and resources the college provided. She states that the course ‘allows students the opportunity to specifically study Classics through the lens of oratory and rhetoric. The MRes in Rhetoric is one of the only programmes of its kind, with top-notch faculty.’ Her favourite part about the course was ‘being able to dive into primary source texts and study them in depth.’ She also notes that ‘It was wonderful to have the space, time, and resources - notably the downright incredible Royal Holloway Library and the Senate House Library - to learn as much as I could about specific classical texts, genres, and authors. It prepared me to enter my PhD programme - in which I am currently enrolled at Penn State. This was exactly what I wanted to receive from my MRes.’
Aria also tells us how her academic pursuits in the study of Rhetoric complement a career in acting. She states: ‘I am of the belief that everything is rhetorical - no words, gestures, or actions are absent of symbolic meaning or power - and in this way, my scholarship is intricately bound up in my new opportunities as an actor. The way I interpret texts - film scripts or ancient papyri alike - and the manner in which I engage with the community around me can, albeit in unique cultural and temporal contexts, be actually navigated using classical rhetorical treatise. That, to me, is what makes studying rhetoric, particularly through the lens of Classics, so exciting and meaningful.’
Aria’s most treasured memories also lie in the friendships she made with two other students, one of whom is also part of the blind/low vision community and is also a Guide Dog user. She tells us that ‘it meant a lot to me to be able to make such wonderful lasting connections.’ Aria’s remarkable success as a student, actress and disability rights activist is a testament of Royal Holloway’s commitment to providing supportive and nurturing spaces for its students, and its lasting impact throughout the rest of their careers.
The series is still in production and has no definite release date, but we can hopefully expect to see something by the end of 2022. In the meantime, you can find the book here.