How the Silver Screen Tarnishes Disability

Some of you probably think I talk about disability too much or that I sound bitter about certain disability issues. Watch the movie trailer for Me Before You. It will show you why I frequently express irritation.

My problems with this trailer:

  1. The disabled guy has nothing to live for until the nondisabled girl comes into his life
  2. The nondisabled girl isn’t living life to the fullest until the disabled guy (who has now presumably lost his chance at a full life) preaches to her
  3. The disabled guy and nondisabled girl turn a professional relationship between caregiver and client into a romance.

 

I am not saying that people can’t use their experiences to teach others a lesson. I’m not hating on inspiration or romance, and I’m not saying that we can’t learn from others’ losses. But I’m really tired of these types of stories wherein the disabled character is only around to a) teach a lesson to the nondisabled world or b) serve as an object of pity because he hates his own life. You’d be tired, too, if you never saw characters that shared your gender, religious identity, career, physical appearance, etc. being written well.

“But Emily, don’t all movies use stereotypes? Don’t all romantic comedies rely on the goofy guy, the clumsy-but-cute gal, the fearless career woman who needs to learn to relax, the party boy who needs to grow up?”

Absolutely they do. The difference here is that disabled characters are extremely rare. There’s not even one disabled character per film. And they usually serve as objects of pity, one-dimensional inspiration, tragedy, or comic relief. When is the last time you saw a movie where a blind person or Deaf person was just doing their job – just baking muffins or filing papers or teaching a class? The disabled person portrayed as a person with dreams, goals, and self-determination is extremely infrequent.

In the synopsis of the book that inspired this film, the disabled guy encourages the nondisabled girl to live a fuller life and go for her dreams. Why isn’t he going for his own? Because in the universe of this film, he can’t have a real life. His only scrap of happiness will come from his new caregiver-turned-girlfriend. Where is his career, his passion, his connection to a larger community?

I implore you to ask for MORE from stories of disability. Demand fully human characters with their own desires, fears, hopes, skills, and challenges. Demand disability in three dimensions, and stop supporting these stories that sell a flat, stereotyped version of disability.

Watch the trailer here. Avoid the book and film everywhere.

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