The recently released Me Before You follows Will Traynor (Sam Claflin), a once successful businessman whose life is drastically changed when he is paralyzed from the neck down. His wealthy parents hire bubbly caregiver, Louisa Clark (Emilia Clarke). The unlikely pair eventually fall in love and Louisa attempts to make a pessimistic Will see the positive side of life, even in a wheelchair.
Me Before You ends with Will deciding to end his life. Despite the wealth he possesses and his girlfriend who loves him, he decides that a life while disabled is not a life.
Even though the plot is deeply problematic, the marketing of Me Before You is even more troubling. The tag line that is used to advertise the movie is “live boldly”. After watching the movie, it is clear that “living boldly” is for able-bodied people. When a disabled character is euthanized and it is marketed with the phrase “live boldly”, filmmakers are exclusively talking about able-bodied people.
The movie seems to say that if you are disabled, life is not worth living. Despite Will’s loved ones initially urging him against euthanasia, they eventually agree that his life is not worth living in his current state. The film normalizes people with disabilities committing suicide and even portrays it as noble.
“When artists create works about minorities with little research or attempt to understand the lived experience, they should expect questions about representation,” says Alice Wong, founder and project coordinator of the Disability Visibility Project.
Me Before You is not just another romantic movie, it is a reminder of the discrimination that plagues people with disabilities.
It is time for narratives involving people with disabilities to be respectful in their portrayals and it is time for people with disabilities to be played by actors with disabilities. It is time that the media recognizes that people with disabilities are people.
Words: Sammy Park
Image: Rita Gomes