Over the last week there has been a global phenomenon caused by the new film Me Before You. Not from an audience enthralled by the film but from the out cry of objection from disabled people. Not often have disabled people from all corners of the globe come together with one voice, a voice that tries to explain why they feel Me Before You adds nothing positive to the world's view of what it means to be disabled. I say tries, as it seems no matter how loud our voices grow they are batted away as invalid and ill informed by the stars of the film, and by the author of the book it has been adapted from. I believe that their responses to the objections highlight a deeper issue around disabled people and why they are still excluded from society globally.
The film's lead, Emilia Clarke, better know for her role in Game Of Thrones, told the Metro this week that if those who raised issues with the film "haven't seen it, you sort of can't have a full view of what it is we're trying to say". Now while I have never wanted to find myself in the position of the objectors to Monty Python's Life Of Brian, who tried to get the film banned without even seeing it, this approach to the objectors does seem to imply that all of us who have raised our concerns haven't read the book. I hadn't read it until I had heard of the film's release but did so as I wanted to ensure my objections were founded, as did many others. I wasn't converted. I felt there are many flaws, in characterisation, language and of course the story. While most disabled people I know who have read it were not big fans, I do know some who are. However, even they were deeply worried by the theme of assisted suicide and disability. Whatever author Jojo Moyes claims, I have heard of many people raising these concerns before there was ever talk of a film.
In the Metro Moyes stated her book "wasn't meant to represent the lives of all disabled people". She went on to explain "it's fiction, it's just about one man". The film's director Thea Sharrock stated that people should not pass judgement on the decisions of others unless "you've been in their shoes". Lacking in comment was Sam Claflin, the actor who plays the disabled character in the film Will Traynor. When his Twitter Q&A attracted comments from disabled people asking for his input into the debate Claflin ended the session early. In the Guardian Emilia Clarke said it was "never our intention" to devalue the lives of disabled people."We were very careful with how we wanted to present things. And we are showing a situation, we are not showing an opinion." All very good, but still no one answer's the objections of disabled people.
I wrote my previous piece on my concerns about the film to explain that I am one of those people who really has "been in the shoes" of the lead character, and why this understanding led me to be so troubled by the story. Many other disabled people have also written their valid, intelligent and reasoned objections and concerns, yet no one from the Me Before You camp has even admitted we might have a point, no matter how small. Apparently while we live with disability everyday, and thus have a deeper understanding of the experience of the ill fated Will, we should shut up because the non-disabled community knows best.
That is the most troubling thing about this incident. To find the voices of so many disabled people throughout the globe being ignored or treated as unimportant really shows the truth behind being disabled in the 21st century. I remember this kind of attitude was when I was child, when the black community raised the issues of white actors blacking up and that even when black actors did get a chance to appear in movies and TV drama they were mostly cast as murderers, thieves, rapist or drug dealers. I also remember being shocked at the attitudes of the white community, as they brushed off the complaints. They knew best. Eventually there was a change, and although the media industry has a long way to go around the portrayal of ethnicity we now have actors like Idris Elba being cast as lead in prime time TV dramas and being tipped as a possible James Bond. But did the industry at least learn to listen? Well obviously not.
Nor has the wider society. Throughout the comments sections of blogs and articles explaining disabled people's views are non-disabled people telling us we're wrong. Not just about the film but pretty much whatever we've said. Our real life experience is nothing compared to stereotypes and beliefs of those who can only imagine how they might cope with impairment. Hence a debate around a work of fiction has become something bigger. To me it has now opened the lid on the truth behind how society sees disabled people. The key message from the recent protest around Me Before You is disabled people should just be happy that good intentioned people are trying to do something for us, with no experience of what it means to be us, and without really talking to us. We are not allowed to be experts in what what our lives are like, or what we want? The mantra of all campaigners for disabled people's equality is "nothing about us, without us" yet this whole furore has proved how far we have to go to achieve this goal.
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