People called the movie Me Before You just one movie about one Disabled man (I use Identity first langauge). They said it wasn’t meant to represent all people Disabled people. The resounding response from the Disability community has been to point out that there is no such thing as a movie about a Disabled person that does not affect the real lives of Disabled people. These things don’t exist in isolation. The sad fact is the portrayal of Disability in Me Before You isn’t isolated. “Disability as a Tragedy” is such a common narrative that it can be called a trope. Me Before You takes the narrative a little further, into the darker realm of “Better Dead than Disabled”, which is sadly just as common.
On July 26, 2016, there was a horrific attack on Disabled people in Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan. To many people who pointed out the problematic role that media such as Me Before You plays in society, the attack served as the worst kind of example of where these messages lead. Satoshi Uematsu entered his former place of employment, a residential care center in Japan’s Kanagawa Prefecture, and began slicing the throats of the people who lived there. This was not a random or unpredictable act of violence. Uematsu wrote a letter to the Japanese Parliament in advance to his actions. He called for a revolution in his letter, expressing the desire to create a world that allows for mercy killing. He thought the perfect place to begin such a revolution was to murder the people in the facility where he had previously worked.
The sad fact is that violence against Disabled people is normalised in our society. It’s a revolutionary act for a Disabled person to boldly proclaim they don’t want to be put out of their misery. It is an act of defiance against social norms for a family member to say they don’t feel burdened by someone they love and would fight tooth and nail for that person to remain in their lives. It is considered insensitive to tell someone who loved the movie Me Before You that you think it sends a dangerous message.
Make no mistake: It is more than the end of the movie and book that sends a dangerous message. The problem is with repeated assertions of life not being worth living with a Disability, not just the choice the character made at the end. A person could skip the ending and come to the same conclusions.
You would need to be wearing blinders to miss the fact violence against Disabled people has become something society tends to overlook. Tune into the news for a month straight. I guarantee you will see at least one story of a Disabled person murdered by a caregiver/parent. I am equally sure there will be at least one recorded reaction of someone saying the person loved their victim and must have snapped.