Trailblazer support, Romina Puma from London, writes a great blog on her view on Me Before You and the improvement she wants to see in the film industry.
I have to say, I have not read the book, but I was planning to go and see the film. So you may well say I don’t have a right to judge something that I don’t know much about. However, as a self-confessed rom-com and also disability related film addict, I strongly believed this was my kind of film. Then I read lots and lots of articles about it that where describing and telling the whole story, with spoilers, and I decided that I had no intention of wasting my money. Fantasy films are not my cup of tea! Especially if it also gives to the audience the wrong message about something that is not fantasy. Paralysed people do exist along along with many other different conditions where it means people use a wheelchair and/or the need the assistance of others.
I think that by now you all be aware of the storyline. But, just for those who still have not heard of it, I will spoil it for you: it is the story about Will who has an accident and becomes paralysed. He cannot cope with this massive change in his life and decides that he wants to die. His family do not support the decision, so they ask him to wait six months to see if he changes his mind. Another important thing of the story is that he is rich, very rich. Due to his care needs, the family hires Louisa. The story is not even really about him, but it is about her. She has always been told by her family what to do and she never lived her life the way she wanted. So, basically he inspires her to live the life she wants, while he is plotting to end his own. In the meantime they (surprise, surprise) fall in love, otherwise it would not be a Rom-com. In the end, he gets his way and ends his life in a clinic in Switzerland that allows assisted suicide. Will leaves all the money to her and she gets the life she wants.
As a disabled person myself I do not like this story one bit, for many reasons. In a way I can relate to Will in that I became disabled later in life. There was always this thought in me, before then, that if I ever end up on a wheelchair I would rather kill myself. Well, I am a wheelchair user now and I would never kill myself. The reason why society still thinks in these terms is because we keep being portrayed as a burden, useless and your life ends the moment you become a wheelchair user. Nonetheless, the story has been written by a non-disabled person, who probably still have this perception about disabled people along with most of our society. I understand that is a made up story and not a documentary, but it should still be made without reinforcing the message “rather dead than disabled”.
I think stories like this should not even get the chance to be published or produced as there are already far too many and instead it should be shown to society the real life of a person with disability. Maybe then society’s perception would change. It not may cause a miracle within society but I definitely think it would make a difference. You know, as they say, Rome was not build in a day!
A film I watched where I think the representation of the character was great was “The Intouchables”; it was funny, moving, real, and we need more film like this. Also, I am wondering how many people can really relate to that story? Why do they tell a story that represents one story in a million rather than a story that represents millions? The answer probably is money. Obviously, it is more appealing to a general audience to hear of a story where they can have pity on the character and think “oh poor him”. As I changed my mind with time, I think also Will would change his mind. Especially being so rich he could buy all the technology he needed and have a great life even with his paralysis.
I also wonder, who the average reader/watcher is of these kind of stories? Do they have any knowledge of this topic? In my view they are people like past me who got their knowledge through media. That is why it is very important not to keep making the same mistake over and over. We are in 2016 and we are still portrayed like we are in the medieval era!
I will say I am not entirely against assisted suicide, but also not entirely pro. In my opinion, if you are terminally ill and you are in a lot of pain, you should have the right to decide whether you want to end your life or not. I understand that is not as easy as it sounds, because then it comes down to the issue of whether the person is capable of making their own decisions; would it be fair if the person didn’t for the family to decide on his/her behalf? It is tricky I know, it is never easy to make a general rule for things like this where each case is unique. However, Will is perfectly capable to make his own decisions and in a way, if this was his will, what else can we do? Although, there is no mention of psychological support whatsoever which could have helped change his mind.
I think that publishers and producers should always consult disabled people before they get their work out into the mainstream world in order to stop this misrepresentation and negative message about disabled people.