The Fundamental Issues With ‘Me Before You’

Hey everybody, Ultimate Oddball here. In this week’s blog post I want to discuss the recent controversy and protest in response to the film ‘Me Before You’. The disabled community has responded strongly, pointing out the ableist views promoted both consciously and subconsciously by the film and by extension the author of the book and screenplay, Jojo Moyes. I’ll be sharing my thoughts as well as particularly apt quotes which sum up the issues well. This post, due to the nature of the content of the film, has a content warning for discussion of suicide and filicide.

‘Me Before You’ is meant to be a romance. The main characters are Will Traynor, who is a successful well off man, and Louisa Clark, the woman who takes a job caring for him after he is paralyzed in an accident. The two fall for each other in the course of his care. Suicide is a steady theme throughout, with Will eventually choosing to end his life via assisted suicide in Switzerland at the end of the film. The entirety of the given reason for Will no longer wanting to live is him being paralyzed.

I will not be delving into the morals of assisted suicide: suffice to say that I believe each person has the right to choose that if that’s what they wish. But Will is not a person: Will is a character. Further, Will was not written by a disabled person. The author does not have the direct experience and understanding necessary to properly frame this important subject, hence the problematic portrayal. This is made even more troublesome due to use of a common trope in disabled media representation, which is usually referred to as the “Better Dead Than Disabled” trope. It is a perpetuation of the ableist idea that disabled people are so inferior it would be better to be dead. As damaging as the regular and consistent use of this trope is, it is magnified by the fact that there is so little disability representation that media like this which promotes better dead than disabled notions is a significant percentage of the overall amount.

This widespread ableist belief has serious and heartbreaking effects. Filicide is a major issue in the disability community. People murder their disabled family members, often their children, and claim it was in the person’s best interest. Judges and juries in cases like this are often more empathetic to the murderer than the murdered. These views are driven by ableist beliefs like the ones perpetuated in this film and book. I don’t want to seem like I’m singling out the author: these views are rooted in societally ingrained ableism and that’s where they come from. Ableism can occur in anyone because there is so much of it in society that it’s difficult not to be affected by it. That doesn’t excuse ignoring it, though, nor does it justify exploiting the stories of disabled people in damaging and problematic ways. It means that everyone, disabled or not, should always be wary of ableist thoughts because no one is automatically exempt.

As I said previously, ‘Me Before You’ is meant to be a romance. That is intended to be its center. Will’s accident, his disability, the difficulties he has, his connection with Louisa, these are just used as plot points on the way to his death. The only reason any of that happens is so the audience can feel like he’s justified in seeking assisted suicide. And the entire reason for his death is to emotionally manipulate the reader or viewer. While I have no issue with authors tugging at the heartstrings of readers or viewers I do have an issue with exploiting disability representation in a detrimental way to do so. Will could have done anything in this story. Been anyone. The author instead chose to make him someone to pity, and then killed him off at the end for maximum emotional impact. The only disabled character. Sit back and think about the disabled characters you’re familiar with, then think about how many weren’t reinforcing pity and infantilization. Think about how many were full three dimensional characters which can’t be summed almost solely by their disability.

This is the fundamental issue at hand. Abled people use disability in their media in a manner the disabled community feels is thoroughly terrible and inaccurate as far as representation goes, to the point that disabled people are murdered, mistreated, discriminated against, and excluded. When the disability community protests these abled people, we are dismissed because abled society doesn’t think we’re worth considering or respecting. As long as films and books continue to propagate these negative stereotypes and use these tired tropes, we, the disabled community, will continue to suffer. If you care about disabled people in the slightest, please let it be known that you don’t support the perpetuation of these damaging views.

Well, thanks for coming by, and have a good day.

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