Me Before You is opening next weekend, and I’m begging you to ignore it. It’s a real shame because the actors are lovely and I’m sure everyone behind the production is good people, but this movie is dangerous.
The beautiful man is a successful dude with everything going for him and then gets hit by a car and is paralyzed. He believes there is nothing for him but death, so his family helps him to work towards physician assisted suicide. Meanwhile, his parents hire a beautiful Manic Pixie Dream Girl to teach him how to live. But! TWIST! Instead of Manic Pixieing her way into his edification, he Magical Burden’s his way into hers. He kills himself anyway after teaching her how to reach for her dreams.
I am actually highly in favor of physician assisted suicide. I live with both mental illness and chronic pain. I understand that there is some pain that is both unrecoverable and unlivable. My problem is not that a man wanted to kill himself. If this was a documentary or a biopic or a film based on a memoir I would bring more nuance to this. But it’s not. It’s a fictionalized love story that relies solely on tropes that are harmful to humans. It sends a message that not having motor skills is to render a person a burden not worthy of life.
The character in this movie would rather be dead than disabled. I posted a link to this essay on my facebook wall and someone came back with their own experiences of facing a similar tragedy and wanting to die so as not to be a burden on their loved ones. People really do feel this way. They are out there and those are their real feelings, but what put those feelings there?
Society. Media. Every message we ever get that says we are only worth anything if we are thin enough or pretty enough or white enough or rich enough. Because all of society makes it so. It is internalized ableism. There are black people who hate black people, women who hate women, gay people who hate gay people. This is what happens when you live in a bigoted world and you are from an oppressed group. You get the same messages as everyone else, and some people believe them. People who would rather be dead than disabled believe the lie that they are a burden not worthy of life. This is what oppression looks like.
So here I am, trying to raise this beautiful brilliant boy. This boy who most days doesn’t want to leave the house because people look at him funny. Who has been invited to two birthday parties in his whole eight year old life. Who is constantly being ignored and talked down to, spoken about as if he’s not in the room while adults guess at what his future will look like. “He’ll be lucky if anyone ever marries him.” they say. Or “You should be happy if he can ever learn to make change.” Who has a handful of people in his life he can count on to treat him like a human being. And THE ONLY TIME he ever sees anyone like him in his entertainment, is when they exist to make other people around them be better people, and then they die.
I’ve written and spoken about this phenomenon, calling it the Magical Burden. (Based on Spike Lee’s idea of the Magical Negro).
Whether it’s Cuba Gooding Junior in Radio teaching a football coach how to feel or Walt Jr. in Breaking Bad giving his father motivation to get money, you won’t see a disabled character actually having their own story, and they’re almost never played by a character with a disability (Breaking Bad did get that part right). They are played by actors chasing prestige and Oscars. These characters only exist to teach lessons and give people without disabilities some perspective. And that perspective is always “It could be worse! You could have a disability!” In the case of this movie, the perspective is “Better live life to the fullest! You could get hit by a bus tomorrow and be crippled forever which is a fate literally worse than death!”
What I need you all to understand is that that attitude hurts my son.
It actually compounds disability. I’m trying to teach Atti to have faith in himself, in the world, that it’s all worth the effort required for him to engage. I’m trying to coax him out of his shell and keep him motivated and every time he turns around all he hears is “Why try? It’s better to be dead than disabled.”
Please think about that. Think about what that would do to you. If every message you got was that it was preferable to be dead than to live the way you live. How could you find the motivation to keep going? As an eight year old child? As a parent, how would you feel if you knew your most important job was to keep your child from believing in the worthlessness the whole world tries to sell him?
This movie is not about a man who wants to die with dignity and control his fate. It’s about a man who believes it’s better to be dead than disabled and a family who agrees with him. It’s about the ugliness in our society that believes self-sufficiency and contributions to the economy are the highest virtues a person can attain. That belittles the soul and the heart and the humanity of people who function differently from the norm.
Please don’t see this movie. Watch Atti on my YouTube channel as he fights to be seen. Watch Zach Anner or Becoming Bulletproof or Josh Blue. Make a friend who uses a wheelchair or crutches. Fight to make sure that all your spaces are accessible. Invite a kid who moves differently to a birthday party.
There is something worse than being disabled. It’s believing that the whole world only sees you as a burden. Do something to prove that’s not true.