Movies can act as both a mirror and a window, allowing us to reflect upon ourselves and see beyond our own experiences. So often unfortunately, that mirror is cracked and the window shut for disabled people. The film industry has long maintained a troubled relationship with the disabled community. In front of and behind the camera, disability remains widely misrepresented and excluded. Filmmaker and fellow disability activist, Dominick Evans remarks in his own blog post: “We cannot make better, accurate, disabled-inclusive films, so long as Hollywood is able to continue shutting us out.”
The upcoming romantic flick, Me Before You is a prime example of how movies can get disability wrong. Based on the novel by Jojo Moyes, this film tells the story of a caregiver (Emilia Clarke) who falls in love with her disabled client (Sam Claflin). This plot seems harmless enough on the surface, but dig a little deeper, and the problems become quite apparent. A major aspect of the storyline, only hinted at in the trailer, revolves around the paralyzed Will Traynor character wanting to end his life. [Spoilers ahead] Despite his extremely attractive love interest and apparent new lease on life, he still kills himself. Not only does Will die at the protest of his loved ones, but his death actually financially benefits Louisa.
This all-too-common Hollywood stereotype, sends the message that living with impairments is a fate worse than death. Disabled people committing suicide is, at times, almost glorified. Abled audiences are often compelled to see this decision as a noble act of strong conviction. The topic of euthanasia can seem like a compelling plot device for filmmakers. However, it’s an extremely limiting view of disabled existence. What does it say about our culture when the most frequent portrayals of disabled autonomy revolve around our deaths? Despite what movies may suggest, our sole motivation in life is not to die, be cured or inspire others to #LiveBoldly (Me Before You‘s tagline).
These widespread misconceptions in mainstream cinema, largely stem from the lack of inclusion. Disabled people are denied a voice at nearly every level of the filmmaking process. Studios will rarely hire disabled actors, writers, directors or even consultants. The industry justifies this blatant ableism with perceived profit loss, yet makes millions from poorly telling stories about disability. The film Me Before You, uses a non-disabled actor to play a disabled character in a movie based on a novel written by a non-disabled author. It is no surprise that this movie is such an incredible offense to the disabled community.
The outcry for better representation is certainly not a new phenomenon; Hollywood just simply refuses to listen. This isn’t about forcing diversity, as some believe it to be, this is about the day to day struggles of disabled people everywhere. It’s time that the motion picture industry pull back the curtains of falsehood and let the sun shine in. It’s time they flung open the windows and let the world see the true face of disability. It’s time for our lives to be reflected on screen without the fractures of ableism. If art is a glimpse into truth, it should set us free, not hold us back. If film is a glimpse into the soul, then it should be free of the fog of hopeless and strengthened by our resolve to survive.