Boo to “Me Before You”
Listen to this post:
If you already don’t like the idea of the new film “Me Before You” or you want to know reasons some disabled activists don’t like it, this is the post for you. Today I’m blogging and aggregating.
The best part? So many people have already written reviews, rounded up posts, and are quoting each other left and right that I had very little work to do.
Spoiler alert: This is a film about an athletic guy who becomes quadriplegic in an accident (old hat in the movies). The actor is non-disabled (oldest hat in the movies). He kills himself because disabled life is not for him. The film’s hashtag is #LiveBoldly. Cuz you know, living boldly means killing yourself. Or in this character’s case, dying so that some lady he’s known for a few months can live boldly. As if he couldn’t? As if she couldn’t as long as he was alive? Ugh.
Things to keep in mind:
- The “don’t like it” I mentioned above? Amazing understatement for the feelings people have about the film and the book it’s based on.
- My favorite rehash of the film’s title is the hashtag “Me Before Euthanasia.” Hopefully that gives you a sense of the flavor of today’s aggregated posts. #MeBeforeEuthanasia #Clever!
- The author of the book told disabled artist–and idol of mine–Liz Carr that the film wasn’t intended to send the message that disabled people are tragic and better off dead. Even though um. Well. See that point above about the character killing himself? In fact, his paid companion falls in love with him, and he kills himself anyway. So I’m feeling like gosh, this movie has a message that disabled people are tragic and better off dead. Silly me. Why am I so confused? (Hint: the answer is not that the movie is only about this one disabled person who’s tragic and better off dead.)
Crippled Scholar wrote an outstanding critique of not just the horrid disability death trope but also about using women’s trauma for character development, the disabled character’s mansplaining, and many missed boats in the book. On the same blog, there’s a massive round up of other critiques!
Andrew Pulrang, longtime TV and media scholar and critic rounded up a bunch of stories and gave his own biting analysis too.
Ashtyn Law provides a wonderful feminist critique from the perspective of a non-disabled person whose partner is disabled. So needed! After all, people involved with the book and film and its fans are doing a lot of telling the disability community that we don’t like the film because we just don’t get it. Not sure how it’s possible that all people who dislike a film are inherently wrong, and the filmmakers are inherently right. Sometimes artists get it wrong or wrong-ish. You’re not exempt from making a mistake because you have a lot of money and a platform to spread your ideas.
This movie is so despised as art that if you click on only the four links above, you will have plenty of thoughtful, engaging analyses to keep you busy for a long time.
The point of me complaining here is that the imaginations and creations of #ActuallyDisabled people are so much more vast and meaningful than the treacly tragedy stuff here. Of course some real life people want to die because of their disability, and some do. Some people feel like a burden, and some are treated as if they are. Parents kill disabled children regularly in the US, and our larger society calls it merciful and understandable rather than murder…even though it’s murder. Assisted suicide is regularly suggested to people without terminal illnesses when medical providers and others imagine disability to be so distasteful that who wouldn’t want to leave this earthly existence who isn’t “perfect” or “normal”? So you could say that these pieces of art are simply reflecting society. But that’s a cop out. Because media and art also create and shape society, and these were not made as social commentary by the disability community. They were made by outside observers interested in shaping disability narratives for us. (See above: we can’t form our own opinions, and we’re wrong when we disagree with non-disabled people). Until we have disabled-made movies in enough volume to balance out this fluff created by someone who has not lived the experiences caricatured in the film, I can’t stand by it, and I can’t stand it.
If we had a society where having or acquiring an impairment didn’t drive away friends or drive you into poverty, open you up to judgment and interrogation by strangers and acquaintances, lead directly to you getting less healthcare or job or educational opportunities because places and mindsets are so wildly inaccessible, then perhaps a fictional story of one man’s unsuccessful struggle to embrace life, accept disability, and have a great love and sex life wouldn’t be so dangerous. But that’s not where we live.
A last note I want to all of this critique and complaining and rage is that while we don’t need any more sappy stories where one person’s disability tragedy is used to inspire a non-disabled person to live to their potential (#LiveBoldly, paid assistant lady!), there’s something else we don’t need: more films that reinforce that the only disabled characters worth showing in the media are white, heterosexual, cisgender, and middle class. Enough already. More than enough.