Outrage against the movie Me Before You by people with disabilities is escalating as the movie gets set to open in theaters on June 3.
The movie, based on JoJo Moyes’ book of the same name, bills itself as a positive, life-affirming romance — its Twitter hashtag is #LiveBoldly. But it ends with its young quadriplegic protagonist, Will Traynor, being euthanized in a Switzerland clinic, leaving his fortune to his caregiver/girlfriend so she could have financial freedom.
Push back against the movie’s message of “better dead than disabled” began on May 23, when disabled tweeters crashed #AskSam, hosted by Sam Claflin, the actor playing Traynor.
“#AskSam why don’t you #LiveBoldly ever after with Louisa? That’s what we would do,” said one tweet by Second Thoughts’ John Kelly, a quadriplegic from Boston, Massachusetts. Read the #AskSam Storify by activist Dominick Evans here.
“The movie’s tagline is: ‘Live Boldly. Live Well. Just Live.’ Yet, Will does quite the opposite,” wrote Emily Ladau, who has Larsen syndrome, in Salon on May 24. “The entire premise rests on the belief that life with a disability is not worth living. In spite of each of the characters in Will’s life trying to persuade him otherwise, the fact remains that Moyes imagines a world in which disability is synonymous with misery and assisted suicide is the only solution.”
Then on May 25, members of Not Dead Yet-UK protested the film’s posh London premiere, which was attended by Moyes and cast members, including Game of Thrones’ Emilia Clarke, who played Louisa. “This film is offensive to disabled people, the vast majority of whom want to live — not die,” said Liz Carr, who led the protest. An actor with muscular dystrophy, she is well-known in the United Kingdom for her role in the BBC’s Silent Witness.
“Yet again the movie industry has gone for the easy trope that being disabled is such a terrible thing that death is preferable to life,” wrote broadcaster Mik Scarlet, who has paraplegia, on May 26 in the Huffington Post’s UK edition. “Don’t create a positive exploration of what is truly possible for disabled people, instead let’s just go the for the easy stereotype eh?”
And on May 31, Michaela Hollywood, who has muscular dystrophy, wrote this in Northern Ireland’s The Belfast Telegraph: “Me Before You is laden with the very same ableist culture that means I spend my days combating inequalities. The fact that Will genuinely believes that he is better off dead than disabled is dangerous. I’ve had friends who have been asked in the street when their appointment with a suicide clinic is, because they’ve been diagnosed with a progressive terminal illness, and I’ve also witnessed young disabled people questioning why they are alive.”
Are the hashtags, protests and articles having an affect? According to a May 31 article in Forbes, the answer could be yes. “While the numbers are already in and counting for this weekend’s box office, next weekend’s tally for the controversial and contested Me Before You may be affected by ongoing protests,” wrote Jennifer Baker. She notes that although similar protests had little impact against Million Dollar Baby, Clint Eastwood’s 2004 movie about the assisted suicide of a character with quadriplegia, that was before today’s age of viral hashtags such as #MeBeforeAbleism and #MeBeforeEuthanasia.