Sunday, 10 July 2016

Me Before Ableism

Hello readers

I return after an unscheduled hiatus as a result of an unfortunate combination of end of uni semester assignment overload, a bout of illness, and general burnout.  I all but abandoned my post theme for June as well.  I have one post in the works for it, but I'm not sure if I'm ready to release it to the interwebs yet... or ever.  I might come back to that theme again in the future.

But today I come to you with a post that kind of relates to that topic, but also more pressing matters and it's a matter I can't hold my tongue on any longer - not that I have on my personal social media accounts, but that's neither here nor there.  I'm still angry and upset.

It's been awhile since the movie Me Before You came out in cinema, but it still leaves me with a bitter taste in my mouth and I still can't seem to go a week without some form of marketing for it pushed in my face.  In case you missed it, this movie is about a young disabled man who decides that he wants to die because he can't live his life as a disabled person.  As far as I know, he doesn't have a degenerative disability - that would bring in a whole raft of complications to the issues here that I don't really have the spoons to cover at this stage - he's simply not the able-bodied person he used to be and therefore now wants to die.  Enter Lou who is in desperate need of a job and comes to work as Will's aide.  She finds out he has given his parents a six-month ultimatum before he goes to an assisted suicide facility overseas, and spends her time trying to convince him not to while he spends his time convincing her that he should and that she'll be better off without him so she can make the most of her life.  They fall in love, but he still goes to get euthanised, and leaves all his money to her so she can go follow her dreams and everyone lives happily ever after except Will obviously because he's dead.

There's so many things wrong with this narrative I don't even know where to start - especially since my betters have covered it so much better than I have, so here is a great post of links to various posts and content from disability voices throughout the world letting the issues be known.   There is also this post which while I have issues with the obfuscation of bodily autonomy and ableism in the general debates around this movie and book, shows the deeper problems of the book that I haven't seen discussed so much in the movie (most of the arguments I've seen have been about the better off dead trope and not discussed how Will's family and carers were ableist).  It's also definitely worth pointing out that yet again the disabled character was played by a non-disabled actor.  I'm actually hard pressed to find disabled characters in tv or film that are played by disabled actors...

But of course the most controversial thing about this movie and book has been the use of the Better off Dead trope sometimes known as 'Bury your Disabled' or moreover - the fact that it is one of an overwhelming majority of Hollywood films (which represent disability) that use this trope.  Many people spoke out and protested against it (as you can see in that first link) and you might have seen street protests around.  Unfortunately it seem, so many people still don't get it, including the book author, movie director, and actors themselves... all notably non-disabled.


Sigh.  I can understand the knee-jerk reaction to say 'it's just a story', 'it's just fiction', etc. but no media exists in a vacuum.  The ideas that spawned the book plot came from ableist ideas, and replicate and perpetuate these ideas, and as I pointed out above - it's hardly an isolated story, joining a whole lot of others of its ilk that send the message that life with a disability is not worth living.  It's all very well to say it doesn't matter and has no effect if you're not part of the affected population.  

Another argument I hear all the time in defence of the movie is 'but some people feel that way! Some people would rather die than be disabled.'  First of all, if they're newly disabled, it's normal for them to grieve their loss of ability, and I've talked about this before.  But a lot of grief actual disabled people go through comes from frustration and fatigue with fighting against an ableist society.  Telling us that if you were in our position you'd rather be dead, rather than helping us make society more accommodating for people like us DOES NOT HELP!  This article in Huffington Post, which I believe originally came from Crippled Scholar summed up the issues with this argument pretty well in this quote:
Here’s the thing: There is a big difference between actual human people having feelings about their actual lives and experiences of disability (which I’m not here to criticize) and a fictionalized account written by someone who isn’t disabled and which heavily romanticizes very problematic stereotypes about disability (which I am absolutely here to criticize).
I am also here to criticize the fact that the non-disabled media heavily over-represents disability discourses that fit into ableist stereotypes, which makes it harder for the viewer to differentiate between the feelings of individuals and the experiences and feelings of all disabled people. So if you find yourself asking that question, also ask whether you are hearing other opinions and whether those opinions are coming from actual disabled people or are they the fictionalized imaginings of non-disabled people?
But in case hearing from disabled people on the issues isn't convincing enough, here is a great video from an able-bodied guy who also covers these points and more (albeit with a bit of heterosexism)

Oh and also, it's a love story but of course they can't have sex because he's disabled... Don't get me wrong, I know sex is not the be all and end and asexuality is a thing, but as far as I'm aware, in the story Will is not asexual and this is merely another case of representing disabled folks as non-sexual.  I've talked about these issues previously.

The worst thing I personally found with this movie was the aggressive marketing.  For a time there, I literally could not go a day without some ad for the movie being pushed in my face.  Bus stops, social media adverts, any time I used Spotify or Youtube, billboards, etc. seemed to shove this movie in my face at any opportunity.  I couldn't escape.  Though it's dissipated somewhat now the hype has died down, I still can't go a week.  The other day I went to buy something at a local mall and I walked past one of those scrolling advertising stands and an ad for Me Before You scrolled on as I wheeled towards and past it.  After making my purchase and making my way back out the mall to my car it scrolled back to the ad.  I was so angry I flipped the bird at it and collected funny looks from other mall-goers.  It is hardly a surprise how strong the backlash was.  I talked to my father about it recently and he asked me if I would have gone down to protest at the local cinema with the other group there.  I responded that had I known they were, I absolutely would have.  To which, he asked what difference would it have made when it's a movie from Hollywood on the other side of the world?   At first I agreed that it would not have made much difference but it was better than staying silent and complacent on the issue.  Thinking on it now I also would have even if just to let other people with disabilities know that it's ok to be disabled and they're not better off dead.

I don't know if we've made a difference.  The cynic in me says no and that Hollywood doesn't and won't care.  But I won't stay silent on it.  Media representation matters and disabled people like myself want and deserve better media representation.  If enough of us speak up they will have to listen.

I'll leave you all with this lovely video from the wonderful Annie Elainey.  Much of the content is the same as already covered but the end has a great message for disabled people feeling discouraged by the movie and the negative messages it sends people like us (it's also captioned! yay!).  Kia kaha everyone.  I'll try and get back on top of this blogging caper again soon :)


  1. That video of self-justification from the actors etc was absolutely nauseating. Imagine if instead of it being about disability they were making a historical film about slavery and their main character was really happy being a slave and supported the whole institution. Hey, it's just one guy! We're not supporting slavery or anything! Don't be so quick to judge! Yep, can totally see them justifying that and people lining up to be in the movie. I'm also utterly baffled by the idea that their film is "life-affirming", unless that they translate that as "life is a wonderful and precious thing that's too good to be wasted on the disabled". Fume.

  2. Heya i am for the first time here. I found this board and I find It truly
    useful & it helped me out much. I am hoping to provide one thing again and help others such as you
    helped me.