People Are Not Happy With The Portrayal of Disability In 'Me Before You'

Me Before You, a film based on Jojo Moyes’ novel of the same title, just premiered June 3. It stars Hunger Games actor Sam Claflin as quadriplegic William Traynor and Game of Thrones actress Emilia Clarke as his caretaker Louisa Clark. Though the two experience tension at first, they learn to open up to one another and eventually develop a romantic relationship. That is, until—spoiler alert—Will ends his life via assisted suicide.

While some people believe the tragic ending conveys the inner struggle quadriplegics and people with other disabilities experience, others are speaking out against the film for perpetuating the idea that dying is better than living with a disability.

Ellen Clifford, a disabled activist with the group Not Dead Yet, calls the film’s message “dreadful.” She told Buzzfeed News, “The message of the film is that disability is tragedy and disabled people are better off dead. It comes from a dominant narrative carried by society and the mainstream media that says it is a terrible thing to be disabled.”

Clifford also brings attention to the irony that the film is being advertised through the hashtag “Live Boldly,” but it is the disabled character pushing the able-bodied character to live boldly—advice that is not reciprocated. “What about him? The message is that you can’t [live boldly] as a disabled person,” she points out.

Some may argue: “But, there are disabled people who actually feel that way, so who are you to criticize?” Well, as Kim Sauders elaborates, it is one thing to listen to the stories of people who live with disabilities and to understand their perspective on life. It is another thing to watch a film based on a fictional story, written by an able-bodied person, that presents only one perspective as representative of an entire community.

"This kind of media is harmful in ways that giving genuine legitimacy to the voices of disabled people isn’t because if you listen to actual disabled people rather than using them as hypotheticals to defend stories like this, you get nuance. Even if they want to die, you hear about why. You might also hear from people who love their lives," Sauders explains. "However, while the existence of people 'who really do feel like Will Traynor' are held up as red herrings, far too much of the media representation of those feelings is fictional but people seem to accept is as real."

In response, Moyes insists that critics are missing the point she was trying to convey in her novel. "Although it discusses the right to die, what it also does in much greater depth—I hope—is lay bare the way we treat disabled people as different, when actually they are not. They're just the same as us, but with different physical limitations."