The only thing “Me Before You” normalizes is a deadly double standard when it comes to suicide prevention and people with disabilities.
People in local cross-disability communities in association with Not Dead Yet(www.notdeadyet.org) are staging a protest at the Berkeley Shattuck Cinemas on Thursday, June 2, 2016, from 6:15PM-7:15PM PT. The purpose of this peaceful demonstration is to oppose the film’s ableist message that people with disabilities are better off dead, and that we are a burden to others. Protesters are organizing across the United States using hashtags such as #MeBeforeEuthanasia, #MeBeforeAbleism, and the film’s unintentionally ironic #LiveBoldly.
“Me Before You” is the latest Hollywood film to grossly misrepresent the lived experience of the majority of disabled people. In the film, a young, white, and wealthy man becomes disabled and falls in love with his “carer,” a young woman who has been hired by his family to cure his suicidal depression with romance.
Despite her opposition, however, the hero does the “honorable” thing by killing himself in Switzerland with the assistance of the pro-euthanasia organization Dignitas – leaving his fortune to her so she can move on without the “burden” of a disabled partner. Based on the best-selling novel of the same name, “Me Before You” is little more than a disability snuff film, giving audiences the message that if you’re a disabled person, you’re better off dead.
The narrative of “Me Before You” and the leaders of the team who brought it to the screen are perpetuating stereotypes that people with disabilities are still fighting against.
Three of the key damaging messages “Me Before You” advances are:
Disability is ugly. Thea Harrock, the film’s director, has said publicly that she made a calculated decision to not include visuals of the main character, a young, wealthy, white man who has sustained a spinal cord injury, using tools for daily living, such as lifts or hoists because they would make audiences “uncomfortable.”
Disability = “It doesn’t get better.” “Me Before You” denies the fluid nature of living with a disability, in which both levels of disability and adjustment change over time. Conflating one stage on a continuum of living – early post-trauma – with the entire lived experience is an error that a character might understandably make but it is inexcusable for the film to make the same mistake. Imagine if we told young people in the LGBT communities who are traumatized and depressed because of internalized stigma and a world full of homophobic barriers that suicide was a rational response.
Mental health services are not for people with disabilities. In a time when mental health services are undercut by radical losses in funding, “Me Before You” helps argue that they are unnecessary – and useless – interventions for people with disabilities. The conceit that a sexless romance with a pretty girl will in any way address the suicidal depression of a young man who has sustained a life-altering spinal cord injury is as ludicrous as it is harmful.
“Me Before You” insults audiences by presuming that they cannot handle the realities of disability. By casting an actor who does not have a visible disability, by reducing the complex emotions that come with transitioning to life as a disabled person to unimaginative clichés, and by removing all evidence of the economic and social barriers that people with disabilities battle, the film kills any potential for authentic drama. The director claims the goal of “normalizing” disability without any awareness that “normal” is a freighted concept to people with disabilities. The only thing “Me Before You’ normalizes is a deadly double standard when it comes to suicide prevention and people with disabilities.