'Me Before You' Is Drawing Criticism For Its Representation of Disability


(Editor's note: Spoilers for the plot of Me Before You below). 

Though the film has not been released yet, Me Before You is already drawing criticism from disability activists for its portrayal of one of the films leads, Will Traynor (Sam Clafin). In the film — based off the novel by Jojo Moyes of the same name — Will is paralyzed after an accident before he falls in love with his caregiver, Louisa Clarke (Emilia Clarke). 

It isn't the romance between the two leads that have drawn the ire of activists. Rather, it's the film (and novel's) narrative twist in the final act, in which Will decides to end his life at an assisted suicide facility, despite falling in love with Louisa. 

"The message of the film is that disability is tragedy and disabled people are better off dead," Ellen Clifford, a disability activist and member of Not Dead Yet, an organization against assisted suicide, said in an interview with BuzzFeed. "It comes from a dominant narrative carried by society and the mainstream media that says it is a terrible thing to be disabled." 

In response to the film's campaign on social media, which has coined the hashtag #LiveBoldly, Twitterverse has used it to criticize Me Before You's ending. 

Moreover, the critiques of the message haven't just fallen on the film, but also the source material. Emily Ladau, who describes herself as a "physically disabled woman who uses a wheelchair and believes all lives have value," wrote for Salon that Moyes' interpretation of disability perpetuates negative stereotypes. 

"In spite of each of the characters in Will's life trying to persuade him otherwise, the fact remains that Moyes imagines a world in which disability is synonymous with misery and assisted suicide is the only solution," Ladau wrote. " ... Every time the media thoughtlessly throws around these messages about disability, it's a painful reminder of how the existence of the disability community is so often perceived. Me Before You continues this trend, taking it further by trying to use both the victim and inspiration tropes simultaneously, aiming to leave audiences feeling inspired while still ultimately perceiving disability as tragic." 

Me Before You hits theaters June 3.

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