(WOMENSENEWS)—The movie “Me Before You” is a sensitive and controversial topic in the disabled community. Based on the book by Jojo Moyes, the story follows a unique, flamboyant girl, Louisa, and her journey as a caregiver for an intelligent, attractive quadriplegic, Will. The two fall in love after Will’s injury, and then struggle to come to terms with Will’s plans, spawned by his disability, to commit suicide. Spoiler alert: Will dies through assisted suicide with Louisa’s support.
While I commend the movie industry for putting the spotlight on people living with a disability, it grossly misrepresents our lives as a whole.
I have Bethlem myopathy, a progressive neuromuscular disease that has caused me to be bound to a wheelchair since fourth grade. There will never be a day in my life when I do not need 24 hour care. However, I have never wanted to end my life. I rely on my family for changing, bathing and eating. While I do feel helpless at times and have had many days where I feel furious with my body for all the things I can’t do, I have spent even more time loving my full and joyful life.
Even as this past year has been one of my most painful as I have struggled to come to terms with my lack of independence, this does not mean in any way that I feel there is no reason for me to live. For the past year I have been on antidepressants and suffered from social anxiety, mostly because I am so different from my peers. Although my therapist assures me this is not unusual for my age group, I am sure it has been compounded by my disease.
I knew this story was going to fill me with rage, but I read the book so I could understand my feelings. Now that I do, I would like to reprimand Moyes, an able bodied person, for thinking it would be OK to write about the life of a disabled person, even though she has no clue what she is talking about.
In the movie, Will’s love for Louisa saves him from depression but he still goes through with assisted suicide because, even though he knows they can be happy together, he doesn’t want to be happy without a full range of motion. He also believes he would in some way be “trapping her” and be a “burden” on her forever. If this depiction by Hollywood is accurate, then I too should kill myself because of all the responsibility I am to care for.
The message this movie sends to other teen girls with disabilities is negative and untrue on many levels. Are we to wait for romantic love to save us from the miserable lives that Moyes assumes we have? Are we to play nice for our helpers, like Will did with Louisa, in the hopes that they can uncover our true happiness? In a world that preys on girls’ desires to be loved and accepted, this movie goes too far. One can even say it encourages teen girls with disabilities to feel less than their partners and, therefore, feel secondary to their partners’ needs and wants. The takeaway message here is that our lives are worthless.
Another striking and absurd part of this movie is that able-bodied actors were used to portray a disabled person. Hollywood did what it always does and lost an opportunity to provide a disabled actor work. It’s not like there is nowhere to go to find actors who could part authentically. It is very rare to see a disabled person in film, and on this unique occasion, where a character is specifically written to be disabled, it’s nonsensical that they couldn’t even cast one of us.
Not only is it disrespectful for an abled-bodied person to play a disabled person, it is cultural appropriation. Crip culture – the culture of the badass disabled – is beautiful and sacred to those who are truly differently abled. For the filmmakers to place a random abled-bodied person who doesn’t know the first thing about living with a disability in a wheelchair and call him disabled is offensive. Crip culture should be valued and respected like all other cultures should.