Me Before You was released in theatres about a month ago (June 2, 2016) and the film featuring a mellowed-out Mother of Dragons and Finnick Odair has been showing for enough time to draw rightly-deserved flak from the disabled community for its storyline.
SPOILER: Emilia Clarke’s character falls in love with Sam Claflin’s quadriplegic character à la a Nicholas Sparks novel sans notebook plus wheelchair, and in the end of the movie Sam goes ahead with his plan to end his life through an assisted suicide programme. Sam also happens to be deliciously wealthy, so he leaves Emilia a handsome amount of money. This was how the central conflict in the movie was resolved—it’s okay if he’s disabled because he’s super hot and rich, and you’re going to be happy in your life anyway, because he will conveniently dispose of himself before he becomes a burden.
I actually kinda like romantic movies (I teared up recently when Saoirse Ronan came back from Ireland to be with the Joey Tribbiani lookalike in Brooklyn, which I 100% recommend by the way), but there is a problem when the movie paints the suicide of a disabled person as a happy ending. In this “ideal” world, disabled people are supposed to bear the responsibility of sacrificing themselves for the greater good of less burdensome humans. It’s a movie that clearly serves the interests of the able-bodied majority. Studio executives could, theoretically, come up with something that depicts the realities of head-to-toe paralysis but carrying Sam Claflin into the toilet wouldn’t do much for the chiseled aloof character they’re gunning for. His muscles also, miraculously, did not atrophy from lack of use. Oh well movies have to make millions and essentially that’s what the condensed goal of humanity is, right? Who cares about responsible media representation.
I’m pretty much optimistic about the millennial generation and the changes we are making for our collective future, but at the moment Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand still hovers above our lives and economic rules work backwards to determine the intangible values in life. Women are less valuable than men because we menstruate and get pregnant and this shaves off productivity in the workforce, elderly men are a burden to society because they can’t work as much as young men, young men who don’t want to be drafted into wars are a burden too because they’re not protecting our national interests and assets, and finally, people with disabilities are walking sob stories because they can’t do the same things able-bodied people can, and by things I mean work. Me Before You presents the only escape for disabled people—they redeem themselves if they are born rich and then leave money behind, which makes up for the otherwise lost economic value.
That’s the trap we are so caught up in. Everything is about money, moving faster, building taller, eating more, and this mentality has creeped into even the most intimate and personal nooks of our lives. There are a lot of CSR campaigns pushing for the inclusion of disabled people in the workforce, and these campaigns make tear-jerking claims that everyone is equally abled and we all have a right to a job in this day and age. I think, though well-intentioned, this is a misguided way to create a more inclusive society, because we are measuring everyone with the same cold-blooded yardstick. You can’t judge a fish by making it climb a tree. Similarly, you can’t judge disabled people based on how well they can work at jobs which were originally conceived with abled people in mind. What happens if they fall short of expectations? Do we cast them aside yet again?
What I’m trying to say is, very often, a disabled person will not be able to do the things that an able-bodied person can. A person in a wheelchair requires the bus uncle to get off the bus, set up the ramp, and wheel them in. A blind person needs someone or somedog by their side in a world made for the visual. Yes, they require more care, they incur “lost dollars”. But that should not be how we measure the worth of a person. If a person with autism says she is as smart as the average person and she can confidently work the cash register, then I say great, but even if you can’t, you’re not a burden to society, you’re a valuable person, and I’m sorry we live in world where you have to contort yourself to constantly prove your worth. Also, you don’t have to be super hot or rich, or kill yourself, and I’m sorry this Me Before You movie is doing well at the box office.