In 1981 I awoke in agony. My legs felt like they were on fire and my back was killing me. My poor Mum was sure I was faking it, trying to get out of going to school. It was the morning of my first exam, and instead of spending the night before swatting up I had gone to Wembley Arena to see my hero Gary Numan play his farewell concert, so it did seem obvious that I was trying to get of going to sit an exam I might fail. She ordered a cab, and I went to school. On arrival I collapsed and I was rushed of hospital. Long story short, my spine had collapsed and after spending nine months in hospital I was told I would never walk again. I was pushed out of the hospital in a wheelchair, paralyzed from the waist down.
When I got home I became depressed, sure that any life I may have hoped for was now out of my reach. I would never find love, or even have sex, and could only imagine a life of requiring care and support with no independence or quality of life. I soon began planning to take my own life. I had it all ready when it became clear that my corpse would be discovered by my mother, who was carrying out all of my care. I could not have this, I could not break her heart, so I didn't go through with it. Instead I waited, biding my time until I could think of a way of ending my life. In the meantime, life happened. I got slowly fitter and I began going out of the house. I made friends and started teaching myself to play music. I soon formed a band, and this led on to things I could never have dreamed of, even before I became a wheelchair user. I was soon touring with that hero of mine, Gary Numan, and then went on to carve out a career as a TV presenter. In 1992 I won an Emmy and revived a BAFTA nomination for a TV show I fronted. While all this was going on I found I had not needed to worry about finding love, as I began a series of relationships that eventually led me to meet the woman I am now married to. Very, very happily so too. In fact I am sure that I have a lived a life that most of my non-disabled friends from school would happily give up walking to achieve, and I still do.
So why I am I telling you all this? Well I am sat typing this as the TV covers the premiere of the new "romantic" move, Me Before You. Adapted from the book of the same name, it features a love story between a disabled man and his carer. So far, so good. However, the story ends with the disabled man going to Dignitas for an assisted suicide. He does this to free his lover from the burden of his care, leaving her a note saying "Live Boldly, Don't Settle". Yet again the movie industry has gone for the easy trope that being disabled is such a terrible thing that death is preferable to life. It breaks my heart that in the 21st Century an author and publishing company, then followed by an entire movie company, producer, director and cast, feel that the world needs this type of story. Don't create a positive exploration of what is truly possible for disabled people, instead let's just go the for the easy stereotype eh?
On top of lazy writing, this film will leave a tragic legacy. Aimed at the younger audience, the book and now the film will create another generation that is sure that they'd rather die than be disabled and that assisted suicide is a noble thing to do. As most of the disabled people in our society, that is about 1 in 5 of us, become disabled later in life this will mean that another young 15 year old boy who wakes up to find themselves suddenly a wheelchair user will possibly feel exactly as I did in 1981. Forget all the other reasons why this film is a pile of dog poo, this alone is a reason to despise it. I would hope most people would like to know they had played a part in building a better world, not reinforcing the problems of the current one.
The saddest thing is I've just been hired to review the film, meaning that not only will I have to go and see it but my money will be added to the box office for it's opening weekend. So when you hear how much money it made, please remember that at least £30 of it was under protest. At least I can claim it back off expenses!
Graphic by Not Dead Yet UK
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