Disabilities are a complex thing to understand. Some disabilities affect a person mentally other disabilities affect a person physically. Despite disabled people being present in our society, they are often not present in mainstream media. That was the case until a movie came out that portrayed a disabled man as the love interest. Even though it attempts to be good disability representation, it is far from it. The movie Me Before You is a love story between a disabled man, Will Traynor, and his caretaker, Louisa Clark, as they take on his last few months to live. Although this sounds like good representation, it is not because multiple disability advocacy groups have criticized the movie for enforcing the belief that life with a disability is not a life worth living. This further enforces how the concept of a person having a disability has been misrepresented or nonexistent in the media for decades.
The movie starts out with Will being bitter over his condition. His bitterness is so deep that he calls Dignitas to perform an assisted suicide. This bitterness is softened when he meets and falls in love with Louisa. Things seem to be turning around for him but he ultimately chooses death due to the fact that he could not bear to live with his disability any longer. His decision to die reinforces the concept of having a disability as a burden to society. It also capitalizes on the selfish theme society gives disabled people. Will’s decision to die left Louisa so mad that she did not speak to him for the rest of the vacation. Society basically gives people with disabilities this dangerous rhetoric that they are, at their best selfish, and at their worst inferior. Will’s decision to end his life was based on his feelings towards his disability. Not everyone might agree with his decision but they should not condemn him for making this tough decision. Mainstream media silences any controversial opinion made by a disabled person then proceeds to condemn them for thinking outside the box. That their existence should be focused on fitting into the society’s stereotype of what they should be or they should give up on themselves.
Another thing that I wanted to point out was that the actor who played Will was not a disabled actor. Furthermore, he was white, fit, and good looking. This is the standard lead male role we see in every major motion picture which is extremely problematic in this movie. The media uses their power to make sure that the fit, white male stereotype is used in major motion pictures even if the character they are portraying is not a fit, white male. This hasty casting decision was made because film and television don’t hire disabled people as actors, writers, or behind-the scenes people which hinders accurate disability representation on screen. It makes it harder for the disability to be portrayed accurately because their reference point is always a neurotypical’s interpretation of the disability. The media uses this power to dilute our perception of people with disabilities with hot, white men just to get viewers not realizing that consequences of their actions.
One major stereotype that disabled people have to face is the needy stereotype. People with disabilities are often viewed as lesser then therefore people always assume that they need help. This often comes with disgust, aggravation, and annoyance which was the emotions that Louisa would often express when taking care of Will. Tensions become high when Louisa overhears Will’s mom talking about Will’s suicide attempt. She takes out this anger while taking care of Will prompting Will to feel even worse then he did before. It made it seem like Will was a burden to her even though he could not help that he was in that condition. This theme brings the idea of power which caregivers often have power over the disabled despite caring for them. This is often met with the rhetoric that society’s stigma of people with disabilities incites not only sympathy and pity for the caregivers, but also horror at the neediness imposed on them. The media plays a powerful role in this rhetoric by portraying disabled people as the problem when it’s the stigma against disabilities portrayed by the media that’s the problem.
Overall, the movie Me Before You was a huge misrepresentation of people with disabilities. To have a hunky white male actor portray a disabled man only fuels the fire of the inaccurate representation of people with disabilities. The themes of neediness and selfness come to play to denounce and dehumanize Will. The worst part about this movie is that Will makes the decision to die because his disability is too much of a burden for him. It shows that it is socially acceptable to view death as better option rather than living with a disability. There are plenty of disabled people who make the best out of their circumstances despite the backlash they receive. The stigma is what is pushing disabled youth to become depressed, bitter, and suicidal. This movie could have done so much more for the disability community but instead it succumbed to society’s narrative of what a disabled person’s place in society should be.