Hollywood’s latest tearjerker, Me Before You, which stars Emilia Clarke from Game of Thrones, has sparked international outrage from disabled campaigners opposed to the film’s central message, which is essentially that it’s better to be dead than disabled.
Protesters including members of Disabled People Against Cuts took these objections to the European premiere of the film. They unfurled a banner accusing the story of being an insult to disabled people and disrupted the red carpet with chants of “Rights not tragedy” and “Assistance to live, not to die”. A worldwide social media assault had meanwhile been taking place since the film’s US premiere days before hijacking its promotional hashtag #LiveBoldly.
The story centres on the relationship between newly disabled Traynor, played by Hunger Games’s Sam Clafin, and his carer, Lou, played by Clarke. Traynor, a former jet-setting banker, finds it difficult to adjust after becoming quadriplegic as the result of an accident. His mother hires a pretty but shy unemployed young woman as his carer in the hopes it will alleviate his suicidal feelings.
They fall in love. He decides he is nevertheless better off dead and goes off to the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland, leaving his wealth to Lou who is thus set free to go forth and “live boldly” (as he instructs her).
Director Thea Sharrock claims that the film, based on a best-selling novel by Jojo Moyes, offers a chance to pause and reflect on the true value of life. However, the story’s lazy stereotyping of both disability and gender has the impact rather of devaluing both the ability of people with physical impairments to lead fulfilling lives and also female independence.
It is little wonder that people who acquire impairments, such as Daniel James, on whom the book was originally based, do become suicidal and choose to end their lives when mainstream culture constantly reinforces the idea of disability as tragedy and denies space to the idea that disabled people ourselves are able to “live boldly”.
In an era of cuts when politicians and the right wing media are fuelling the idea that disabled people are a burden on society, this is an even more dangerous message to push.
Me Before You is in cinemas now.