by Josefine B.
You’ve probably heard of it; the successful movie that was adapted from a bestseller by the romance author JoJo Moyes. Since its release in May of this year, the movie ‘Me Before You’ has gained praise from the general population as well as film critics.
However, the masses cheering on this film have ignored something that certainly shouldn’t be overlooked. Disability rights activists have voiced their opinions on this movie (and the novel on which it is based), but for the most part, they have gone unheard.
If you’re one of the many people who have missed the critique of the film, allow me to fill you in. The movie, which is centered around the relationship between a man with quadriplegia and his able-bodied caretaker, Lou, has been called out for its ableist narrative.
Now, a lot of able-bodied people don’t actually know exactly what ableism is. Which doesn’t surprise me, (in fact, the dictionary on my laptop doesn’t even recognize the word) however, the word ableism is by definition: the discrimination against people with disabilities, often in favor of able-bodied people.
Even after that explanation, there might still be some people who cannot see how ‘Me Before You’ could be an example of ableism in media. Well, that is what this article is about, which also means that if you are not interested in hearing any spoilers from the film/novel, now is probably the time for you to stop reading.
On the other hand, if you’re more interested in learning more about the issue of ableism, then I strongly advise you to read on.
‘Me Before You’ has many problems with how it represents disability. First of all, the character with quadriplegia, Will Traynor, is mostly based on negative stereotypes. Because his character refuses to accept his new circumstances and has made the decision to end his life, he becomes nothing except an object of pity to the able-bodied audience of the film.
But real people with disabilities are not here to be pitied, or inspire able-bodied people. They’re here for the same reason as everyone else: to live their lives – Which is why it is problematic that Will is someone who constantly reminds his able-bodied caretaker and love-interest Lou, to live well. While he inspires the able-bodied people around him to live their lives, Will doesn’t see his own life as a person with a disability as one that is worth living.
This brings me to the main point of what I’m trying to say: This movie/novel takes part in the ableist ‘ideology’ that disabled lives are not worth living. It’s harmful. And it’s as wrong as anything can be. Being or becoming disabled is not the end of life. And people thinking otherwise is exactly what drives the “rather dead than disabled” narrative in this movie and book, forward.
The thing about representation for people with disabilities is that they’re either objects of pity, or inspiration. Sometimes both, which becomes twice as hurtful. In ‘Me Before You’, Will Traynor is an object of both. He’s either there to inspire Lou and other people around him to live, or he’s there as a miserable man who thinks his life is suddenly worthless because he’s become disabled.
The ending of this film, however, is what has angered disability rights activists the most. Because despite having Lou, a girl who loves him, a wonderful (and rich, mind you) family, it’s not enough for Will. No amount of love could ever be enough, since he thinks that his disability has made life completely worthless. And he goes to Switzerland, to the controversial euthanasia clinic Dignitas, and ends his life – But not without leaving Lou, an able-bodied woman, a bunch of money and telling her to “Live well,” once more.
That is almost as ableist as it gets. A man with a permanent disability ends his life only to further the life of his able-bodied love interest. It tells the audience for this movie, that although his life was not worth living, hers is, and she should live it, since she doesn’t have a disability.
It tells people with permanent disabilities that they will never have or deserve happy endings – that they might as well end their lives, because it will make the lives of their able-bodied loved ones easier.
If you’re able-bodied, there is a possibility that you don’t understand the seriousness of this. And that is in some way plausible, because ableism is not an issue that is discussed as much as it should be. It’s an issue that is often ignored or dismissed by society. But it exists, and ‘Me Before You’ is a perfect example that supports that fact.
Whenever I have tried to discuss the problems of this movie online, people have told me to “calm down”, that it is “just fiction”. Even the author of the book, Jojo Moyes, has claimed that “nobody has ever taken [the ableist message] from the story,” and “it’s just about one character. It’s nothing more than that.” Except it is. But I wouldn’t expect her, or any of the able-bodied fans to understand that. It’s about way more than just one character in one situation. It is more than fiction, because this book and movie is built on harmful stereotypes that have insulted a minority – A minority that happens to be very underrepresented and forgotten, that many choose to step on.
Jojo Moyes had an opportunity to give a voice to a minority – a voice that would burn hurtful stereotypes. But instead she chose to send an ableist message that have told people with disabilities to kill themselves for the benefit of their loved ones. And instead of apologizing, she, as well as all of her adoring fans, have tried to negate a minority by telling them: “Your voice doesn’t matter, so neither does your opinion.”
I’m telling you right now, if you have a disability, your life is not worthless. Your voice matters, and you deserve to live just as much as anybody else in this world does. You’re beautiful, worthy of love and a happy ending. Please don’t let anyone or anything tell you otherwise.
You can find out more about Josefine on her author page.