Disability rights advocates protest ‘Me Before You’ as ‘disability snuff film’

The movie, "Me Before You."
“Me Before You,” a Warner Bros. movie released June 3, 2016. See the movie trailer here.

Disability rights advocates in cities across the U.S. and around the world are protesting the latest Hollywood movie to end with the assisted suicide or euthanasia of the lead disabled character. Protests already have been held in New York City, Boston and Denver, with more planned in other cities.

Me Before You was released on Friday, June 3. Some cities also have been providing advance screenings. Members of Not Dead Yet UK protested at the London premier on May 24 and garnered significant mainstream media coverage (Guardian, Buzzfeed) during the protest and in the days following.

“The last big example of this tired theme was Million Dollar Baby, which came out before the major growth of social media but still resulted in protests covered in the New York Times,” said Stephen Drake, research analyst for Not Dead Yet (USA). “We can’t begin to keep track of the people and cities involved this time.”

Disability rights writers and bloggers also have been blasting the film for its oppressive portrayal of living with significant disabilities like quadriplegia. Examples include articles by disability studies scholar Bill Peace and activist and filmmaker Dominick Evans. Some have been featured in mainstream outlets like Emily Ladau’s article in Salon, Lauren West’s in Huffington Post and Ben Mattlin’s in the Chicago Tribune.

Not Dead Yet’s New England regional director John Kelly has the same level of spinal cord injury as Will Traynor, the lead male character in Me Before You.

“Book and screenplay author JoJo Moyes admits she knows nothing about quadriplegics,” said Kelly, “yet her ignorance is allowed to promote the idea that people like me are better off dead. We are not ‘burdens’ whose best option is to commit suicide. No one’s suicide should be treated noble and inspirational. We reject this discrimination. Our suicides should be viewed as tragedies like anyone else’s.”

One of the biggest concerns of the disability community is the message this movie sends to the 12,000 individuals who have new spinal cord injuries each year in the U.S. alone. Kelly Buckland, executive director of the National Council on Independent Living (NCIL), is a spinal cord injured husband and father.

“Our society places a high value on physical appearance and ability and at the same time really stigmatizes significant disability,” says Buckland. “We understand what it means to deal with issues like the loss of one’s former dreams as well as the loss of physical abilities. When someone is first hit with this, they may spend time feeling that they’d be better off dead. If assisted suicide had been legal in the past, many of us would not be here today.”

NCIL and other major national disability organizations that have taken a position on assisted suicide, oppose legalizing it.

Me Before You is the latest Hollywood film to grossly misrepresent the lived experience of the majority of disabled people. In the film, a young man becomes disabled, falls in love with his caretaker and they have an incredible six months together. Despite her opposition, however, the hero does the “honorable” thing by killing himself at a Swiss euthanasia clinic — leaving his fortune to her so she can move on and he is no longer a “burden” to her. Based on the best-selling novel of the same name, Me Before You is little more than a disability snuff film, giving audiences the message that if you are a disabled person, you’re better off dead.

Protest options

  • Two or more people can peacefully hand out a leaflet. (Links: black-and-white leaflet and color leaflet.)
  • Display a “Me Before You” protest banner, which can be made at local print shops
  • Send a press release (you can use NDY’s template release, including local contacts) to send to your local media.
  • Join the worldwide social media Thunderclap.
  • Tweet using #MeBeforeYou, #LiveBoldly, #MeBeforeEuthanasia and #MeBeforeAbleism
  • Share the articles linked below with friends and colleagues.

For more information, see the following articles:

  • “Spare me, Me Before You: Hollywood’s new tearjerker is built on tired and damaging disability stereotypes.” Link.
  • “Why Some Disability Rights Activists Are Protesting Me Before You.” Link.
  • “People Are Annoyed About How Me Before You Represents Disability.” Link.
  • “Hollywood Promotes the Idea It Is Better To Be Dead Than Disabled.” Link.
  • “A Second Class Existence: Me Before You Gets It All Wrong.” Link.
  • “Why Are You Complaining? Some People Actually Feel That Way: A Critique of Me Before You.” Link.

For more information, contact John Kelly at jkelly@notdeadyet.org or Diane Coleman at dcoleman@notdeadyet.org.

PrintThis column was provided by RespectAbilityUSA, a 501(c)(3) organization on the front lines in the battle to reduce stigmas, failed government policies, and other obstacles that deny people with disabilities the opportunity to achieve the American Dream. See more information at respectabilityusa.org.

NYD-logoNot Dead Yet is a national, grassroots disability rights group that opposes legalization of assisted suicide and euthanasia as deadly forms of discrimination. See more information at notdeadyet.org.