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Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Me Before You; Why It's Not Okay

"Just live well. Just LIVE."
...unless you're disabled.

*Since posting I have read the book and stand by my points. 

If you follow me on Twitter you may have seen my Tweets about the book turned film, Me Before You. Originally I was going to hold off on writing this post until I'd watched the film and then write a Bloo's Review on it. However, the more I see the trailer, people gushing about the book and anticipating going to see it in the cinema the harder it's been to bite my tongue. Which is evident by my ranting on Twitter. I also realised I don't want to review the book or the film. The writing or acting doesn't matter to me. Nor does the cinematography. What I want to talk about is how this film portrays disability and the impact this kind of representation in the media has on my community. You may question the credibility of this post because I'm writing it before seeing the film or reading the book but it's a risk I'm willing to take in a bid to make people think twice paying to see this film and as such supporting it.

Spoilers ahead and talk of assisted suicide.

Me Before You is a film adaptation of Jojo Moyes book of the same name. It's the story of Will Traynor, an attractive, white, rich (is there any other kind of disabled person in romance?) disabled man and Louisa Clark, a newly unemployed, uneducated and unambitious but pretty woman with a kooky wardrobe. Despite having no qualifications she's offered the chance to become a carer for Will. But she is not hired by Will. No, she's hired by Will's mother as she hopes Louisa can brighten her son's spirits. Oh, did I mention Will is suicidal?

Since the accident that left him [edit] paralysed from the neck down Will has lost the will to live - naturally - and plans to go to Dignitas to die. After a suicide attempt his mother agrees to honour her son's wish but only if he agrees to live six more months. His mum's hope being that in this time she can convince him that life is in fact worth living; enter Louisa. Nothing like a pretty girl to get rid of those suicidal thoughts, am I right? 

Well apparently it's not the miracle cure after all as despite falling in love with each other Will ultimately still goes through with his planned assisted suicide. Not before teaching Louisa the importance of living life as fully as possible. No, the irony does not escape me. Will obviously wasn't familiar with the saying 'practice what you preach', I guess.

Now perhaps you're thinking, 'Well, what's the problem?' Maybe you're thinking that sounds like heartbreaking but beautiful and poignant film. Now let me break it down for you.

I touched upon the stigma people with disabilities face in my post Mental Health & Disability. We still live in a world where disability is seen as synonymous with being unhappy. It's the reason why people frequently commend me on my attitude towards life and my positivity. It's the reason why people look at me with pity. It's why people tell me I'm brave for just being and why on multiple occasions people have told me they would rather die than live my life. People with disabilities live every day facing the stigma that being disabled is the worst thing in the world and every day we try to tell people that it's not. A disability is not the end of the world and it should not mean the end of a life well lived. Me Before You completely flies in the face of that. 

We also live in a world where disability is extremely under represented in the media. When we are represented, nine times out of ten you will see a non-disabled actor take the role, as seen in Me Before You. The latter usually leads to the age old, "Well it wouldn't be acting if they cast a real disabled person." Because when an non-disabled actor plays a non-disabled role they are basically playing themselves, right?  Personally I don't feel that non-disabled people being cast as characters with disabilities is inherently bad. The problem is that the film industry does not give people with disabilities a look in. It is not an equal opportunities industry and that is where the problem lies. However, the lack of actual person with a disability in this particular role is really just a cherry on top of a shit cake. To be honest, I would hope any self-respecting person with a disability would avoid being associated with this film like the plague. An actor with a disability would not change my mind on any of the problematic areas of this story.

In defence of Me Before You I have seen people say that people with disabilities need to understand that this isn't a story about all of us, it's a story about one man's choice. This is where lack of representation comes in. It is 2016 and it is still extremely difficult to get stories featuring disability made into film or television. That is why it matters even more what stories get told and who gets cast. You're right, Me Before You may not represent all of us but these kinds of stories do impact all of us. It perpetuates the worst stereotypes of disability and we have very little to combat that stereotype within the media. 

It is important to understand what Will amounts to in this story. He is nothing more than a plot device. He serves only to be a life lesson to the real main character, Louisa. This is another thing people with disabilities have to put up with on a daily basis. Being made into other people's inspiration porn. Will is used to teach Louisa the importance of living and once he's served his purpose he is completely disposed off. Leaving Louisa to ride off into the sunset of a sequel with a new found appreciation for not being disabled or dead where she learns to love again, obviously an equally non-disabled or dead person. 

Assisted suicide is a controversial topic and while I would say most people with disabilities want to live there are undoubtedly some that do not. As such I could perhaps agree there is some merit in broaching this subject matter in some way in the media but this is not it. Here we are seeing assisted suicide be romanticised and used as a plot device. We see the audience excusing it because Will is disabled. I mean... it's completely acceptable and understandable for someone with a disability to want to kill themselves, right? 

All in all Me Before You is a story chock full of tired romance tropes. These tired tropes are the reason why I mostly avoid the romance genre featuring disability and hope to one day contribute my own stories to it. The only thing that sets this story apart is the fact Will is not 'saved' by Louisa (which would be almost as problematic if that were the case anyway) and goes through with his suicide but this isn't a positive difference.

The film boasts the tag line 'live boldly' which has been trending on Twitter. I wonder how those involved with the film are so clearly misguided and ignorant of the message they are sending to us in the disabled community. They are telling us it's acceptable for us to want to die. They are telling us that it's acceptable and even a romantic gesture for us to go through with it. They are telling us that living boldly isn't for us. The best we can hope for is to serve as inspiration and a life lesson in film as in life.


  1. as this is obviously a romance, I would have never watched it anyway.. but this post was very interesting! tried to actually think of disabled characters in media, and the only one that came up was stevie from malcolm in the middle? I always liked how he was treated like a normal person and they also pick that up a few times, what did you think of that?

    1. I haven't actually seen Malcolm In The Middle so I can't comment on that. Sorry!

  2. This is so good! I've been in between about holding my tongue too. I'm holding out a little bit longer but it will eventually cone out...

    1. Thank you! I look forward to reading it when it does!

  3. What a good post. I fear this film is another example of society marginalising a group of people and then refusing to listen to how they wish to be represented or what is hurtful to them. Thank you for this.

    1. Thank you! So far that does seem to be how it's going but I guess it's still early days. Hopefully we can change things. :)

  4. I really hope the film is handled better in its entirety than it seems to be. I actually found the book somewhat refreshing in terms of its attempt to discuss problematic issues surrounding disability. Obviously my interpretation is subjective, but I took a different message from the book, and I think the trailers for the film perpetrate a twisted message. Will is not initially portrayed as simply a suicidal disabled man, instead, the reader and Louisa initially only know that he suffers from a disability as a result of his accident. She is there effectively for mental health support, which shows that the impact of a disability does not end at the physical spectrum, but instead permeates your psyche. Moyes avoids presenting an idyllic view of Louisa's impact upon Will's love - she doesn't simply enter and all of his problems are solved by this pretty, simple minded girl. She enters his life but he cannot overcome his mental issues. The loss of independence he suffers from makes him choose to go to Dignitas, but in the book Louisa contacts a whole array of other carers and individuals with the same physical difficulty as Will. These are largely stories of hope, in which the reader is given information about all sorts of things quadraplegics CAN achieve rather than things they can't. Also, all of the activities they engage in whilst Will is alive are aimed at showing that he can do things, rather than proving that Louisa can whilst he watches on.

    Sorry about how rambly it was, but I really hope they keep all of these aspects of the plot in to show that disabled people shouldn't just consider suicide because of what they have lost, but also show what you can gain.

    Steph - www.nourishmeblog.co.uk

    1. This is an interesting alternative view from what I've read other's got from the book. I found Kim Sauder's post particularly eye-opening and it seems to differ a lot from how you viewed things. I love how two people can read/see something and take completely different things from it! Haha. I would say that while I feel like the book is less than ideal it's release is less problematic than the film because books tend to (but not in all cases) have less of an impact on wider society than a Hollywood film would. They also tend to be able to explain things better. Perhaps I'm wrong but I just feel like with my experience of how a lot of people in society treat those with disabilities the risk of how people will interpret this film outweigh the potential positives. I feel these things could have been taught in a much more productive and less problematic way.

      Thank you for your comment and bringing an alternative view. :)

  5. i seen movie,i was invited to a early screening . i thought it was done well .

  6. This was really interesting! When I saw the trailer a while ago, I actually wondered how a disabled person would perceive this? Because I already had a bad feeling watching it. Now I am already quite sceptical towards Hollywood romances due to their lack of reality, but this one made me a bit angry too. I completely agree with what you said. The message sent is not acceptable. How is it possible that they can just go around and spread the message that a disabled person's life is not worth living? I don't get it.
    I also like that you mentioned the disabled actors part. I am actually wondering about this everytime I see a disabled person in film. It only makes sense to choose a non-disabled actor if they also include flashback scenes where the person can walk, in my opinion. But that's a complete topic on its own, how certain kind of people are excluded from the film industry. Like, everyone is always perfectly beautiful, right? That's not normal life. But that's the problem, no one wants to see normal life, everyone wants to see a romanticised version of it.
    I'm glad that I read your post, it definitely gives me some new input to think about as well. I will definitely not watch this movie, because I don't want to support the message it sent.
    Patti Shifting Tales

  7. I actually thought the trailer to this looked good - like a love story. But I've heard so many bad reviews about it from people so now I don't know if I want to watch it or not :/

    Alisha Valerie. xo | http://alishavalerie.blogspot.com/ | @SaidByAlisha

  8. I don't think your review is fair having not read the book or seen the film.
    It's not as simple as you make out he's not just a disabled man in a wheelchair, he is completely paralysed from the neck down can't feel or move anything below the neck and has a whole host of health and mental health problems that come with that, to name a few he can't regulate his own temperature, gets chronic bouts of pneumonia that almost kill him every few months and more, that are all explained in the book and film.
    Also he isn't suicidal when the accident happens he throws himself into recovery but after years of no improvement and hearing that nothing will improve he becomes suicidal.
    I have yet to see any quadraplegics comment on what they think of the book and film, but as a care giver to a loved one who has quadriplegia due to a spinal cord tumour, I was lucky enough to be invited to a screening of the film and have read the books multiple times and although they are not perfect they are beautifully written and educational about quadraplegia and at no point do I think people will see the film and think 'disabled people are better off dead' and at no point have any of my friends or anyone I've ever met who's read the book have ever implied that my loved one who has a spinal cord tumour is better off dead.
    i would reccomend you seeing the film or reading the book then doing a follow up post.

    1. That's fair. I knew it was a risk when writing that my credibility would be questioned because I hadn't seen or read it. I would say though my opinion didn't come out of thin air. It came from life experience, research into the book and opinions from other people (most with disabilities) that had read the book or seen early screenings of the film. I will point you to others that you may perhaps feel are better equipped to discuss it than me: Kim Sauder, Emily Ladau, Dominic Evans and Vicky Kuhn to name a few.

      I also in no way meant to underplay his disability at all and I will edit my post to mention the extent of his disability. Thank you for bringing that to my attention.

      I am encouraged that you haven't personally encountered anybody with such views as a carer but I as well as many of my friends with disabilities have encountered people on many occasions that may not say they think it would be better if I was dead but have said they would want to die if in my position, which equates to the same thing. It perpetuates the perception that disability is a fate worse than death. As I said this wouldn't be such a big deal if we had a lot of representation but we don't. We need more films about us living happy and fulfilled lives not ones that legitimises negative views of disability.

      I do plan to see the film when it comes out and review it so if my opinion changes at that point I will definitely say. I would like to say though the issue here reaches further than how one book or film handles disability. It's a matter of what kind of representation we are getting and by who.

      Thank you for your comment and giving me some things to think on.

    2. I'm a full time wheelchair user myself and I completely agree with you Caroline! I know many who've flocked to see the film having read the book & every single person had nothing but praise. Furthermore, the over-generalised statement you make that disabled people are better off dead didn't occur to any of the people I know who've seen the film. I really don't think this film in any way represents disability pejoratively, nor does it negatively influence the opinions of able-bodied people towards those who are disabled.

    3. As I said to Caroline, I'm encouraged you haven't encountered those attitudes. I myself on many occasions have encountered people who thought it was a compliment to tell me that if they were in my position they would want to die. As for the issues with this film, I've since expanded on my thoughts in another post and gone into detail a little more on how the issues are so much more further reaching than this one film/book.

  9. Really beautifully written and well put forward! But I'm still eagerly awaiting the arrival of this film because I'm a bit of a sucker for a romance but I will keep what you said in mind when I'm watching it x


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