'Me Before You' Criticized For Its Portrayal Of Disability

The film, starring Emilia Clarke and Sam Claflin, is out June 3.
Alex Bailey/Warner Bros.

The film adaptation of Jojo Moyes' romance novel "Me Before You," starring Emilia Clarke and Sam Claflin, is set to hit theaters next month. While the trailers are certainly heart-wrenching and enough to leave viewers in tears, some have had a different sort of response due to the movie's representation of the disabled main character.

Claflin plays William Traynor, a man who is left in a wheelchair following an accident. He falls in love with Clarke's Louisa Clark, who is his caregiver. The story is supposed to be inspiration for living life to the fullest and is being promoted with the hashtag #LiveBoldly. However (spoiler) at the end of the movie, Will ends his own life via assisted suicide.

Ellen Clifford, an activist with the group Not Dead Yet, said the story is actually guilty of “grossly misrepresenting the lives of the vast majority of disabled people."


“The message of the film is that disability is tragedy and disabled people are better off dead,” she told BuzzFeed. “It comes from a dominant narrative carried by society and the mainstream media that says it is a terrible thing to be disabled.”

Kim Sauder, a disability rights blogger and PhD student in Critical Disability Studies, wrote more about what she says are "deeply troubling" issues with "Me Before You" in a blog for The Huffington Post. She says the story features a majority of "people who reinforce the idea that it is better to be dead than disabled," a lack of "real disabled voices" beyond Will and a warped portrayal of physical disability and sex.

This kind of media is harmful in ways that giving genuine legitimacy to the voices of disabled people isn’t because if you listen to actual disabled people rather than using them as hypotheticals to defend stories like this, you get nuance even if they want to die, you hear about why. You might also hear from people who love their lives. However, while the existence of people “who really do feel like Will Traynor” are held up a red herrings, far too much of the media representation of those feelings is fictional but people seem to accept is as real.

Some have been responding to the film with the hashtag #MeBeforeAbleism.

In a 2013 interview with Goodreads, Moyes explained that her intention was, in part, to highlight some of the very things critics are now pointing out.

"Although, [Me Before You] discusses the right to die, what it also does in much greater depth -- I hope -- is lay bare the way we treat disabled people as different, when actually they are not. They're just the same as us, but with different physical limitations."

"I have a child who was born deaf, so as a mother of a disabled child myself, one of the things I found most frustrating when he was small was not his disability, to which we adapted very quickly," she continued. "Very quickly it becomes the least interesting thing about someone you love. It was other people's attitudes. I have gotten thousands of emails about this book and a lot of them have come from quadriplegics or caretakers of quadriplegics, who have said, 'Thank you for reflecting our lives and also for making a quadriplegic male a romantic hero who is sexy!'"

Director Thea Sharrock was aware of both kinds of responses to the story before filming, according to The Guardian.

“We did not want to be dismissive of either side,” she said. “There are a few well-known cases where people have made these choices and on the wards people knew patients who had done so. They were able to say that they understood, but that was not their story.”

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