Me Before You, the film, was released in the United States on June 3, 2016. Curious and having heard nothing about the movie nor the book, I watched the trailer (because, let’s be real, who can resist Sam Claflin?) and was so disgusted that I had to force myself not to close the tab.
This poor girl is clearly presented as pathetic and he’s suicidal because obviously no one could be happy and disabled. And oh, surprise, they fall in love. It is a freaking miracle, right? Who in their right mind could fall in love with such a man?
I don’t remember when I realized I was different. Different as in disabled. What I do remember is realizing that no one was like me on TV.
It didn’t happen right away, but I became conscious of it when I was around ten, at a time in my life when I was really uncomfortable in my own skin. I am really curvy, kind of short, not popular, and in a wheelchair, so it took me a while to feel remotely at ease with my body. The media didn’t help.
The romanticization of disabilities as obstacles to overcome has been a recurring theme in movies that came out in the past few years, and as a disabled woman, I find it disgusting.
Yes, we are a minority with hardships thrown at us daily, but that doesn’t mean we deserve love any less than anyone, or that people must be desperate to fall in love with us. Disabilities are hard enough without movies telling us that we should be in a really bad place to find love. And I would not say that if this was the only movie dealing with disability in that way, but this happens practically every time a TV show or movie involves a disabled main character and a love story.
But that is not the only issue with entertainment media when it comes to dealing with disabled characters.
For example, the writers have a tendency to make characters who were badly injured sit in a wheelchair for a while and then, all of a sudden, they find a cure (a gadget, a surgery, a new medicine) which can “save” them. Felicity Smoak is an example of that. I don’t watch Arrow but the recent so-called twist where she was shot, paralyzed for a few episodes, and then she was somehow cured, isn’t the only instance of that overdone plot twist, and I have witnessed it many times.
Let me tell you one thing: as a disabled woman, you know the twist is coming, but it hurts every single time. Your favorite TV show is basically telling you that you can’t be a hero if you can’t walk, and if you find your role models in television like I do, you feel let down by fictional characters.
Another thing that pisses me off is that every character with a disability, ever, is paralyzed because of an accident, giving them a tragic backstory to add depth to the plot.
It is considered a simple prop to the story. I was born with a physical disability that lets me stand on my legs with help and I can push on them, but I don’t have the strength to stand up on my own, let alone walk.
My parents and I have a very loving relationship, partly because I need their help a lot in my daily life. There is no dark accident to look back on and give me the right to be broody. I’m happy to say that I’m a pretty positive girl, and although my disability certainly shaped me into who I am, it is not all I am. Do not reduce me to it, do not reduce characters to it either.
And in a televisual and cinematographic landscape where most minorities are slowly getting more and more representation, it is time for screenplay writers to integrate disabled people into their writing without making them into victims. We are not victims. We are just like you, aspiring heroes chasing dreams with ambition and courage. Sure, it is a little bit more difficult, but that doesn’t stop us from trying.
In a world of strong, independent characters belonging to minorities, give me strong, independent, disabled characters who are not burdened by tragedies, but just trying to go through life while making an impact on the world. Like any other character.
Please give us people we can relate to, stories where our love lives are not treated as charity cases. Get rid of the stereotypes that make anyone with a disability feel alone in this “perfect” world the media portrays.