*This post contains spoilers*
People with disabilities are one of the most underrepresented minorities in the media, so it was hardly surprising that Jojo Moyes’ best-selling novel ‘Me Before You’ which featured a main character with quadriplegia garnered international media attention. Disability comes in so many forms and every single person is affected by it and deals with it differently. Therefore, it is impossible to represent every experience of disability, however, the portrayal of disability throughout ‘Me Before You’ was troubling in many ways.
Assisted suicide is a difficult topic to discuss and one that should be dealt with care and respect. Unfortunately, this is not how it felt when reading ‘Me Before You’. Will’s choice to end his life was treated as the only possible option. Whilst, the decision itself was not problematic as it was Will’s and Will’s alone to make, it was portrayed as the best thing that a person with a disability could do. Of course, Will’s choice to end his life is valid and this narrative is a reality for many. However, it was portrayed by Moyes as the bravest decision Will could have made, not for himself but for the sake of his loved ones. This further perpetuates the damaging misconception that people with disabilities are a burden on their loved ones.
Much of the promotional campaign surrounding the film was centred around the tagline #LiveBoldly, a direct contradiction to the conclusion of Will’s story. This was clearly a reference to Will leaving large amounts of money for Lou (his girlfriend and carer) with the instruction to live her best life. From this, it is clear this story was written for able bodied readers, Will’s disability was merely a plot device used to invoke reader and audience sympathy for the other characters.
For far too long, people with disabilities have been side lined or erased altogether, often when a person with a disability is featured in books or on screen it is to elevate the able-bodied characters. They are often used to make the able-bodied characters feel grateful that their lives are ‘not as bad’. This idea that disability is a tragic story and a life not worth living is over used and tiring, no one is defined simply by their disability. It’s time we start writing characters with disabilities rather than disabled characters.