A Letter M. Night Shyamalan, About the Dangerous Stereotypes in His New Film 'Split'
Dear Mr. Shyamalan,
We wish to inform you of the harm that will be done when your film, “Split,” is released on January 20, 2017.
We write to you about those around the world who live as plural: that is, many people sharing one body.
In the media, plurality is only ever portrayed as a mental illness: “multiple personality disorder;” now called dissociative identity disorder (DID).
Plurality and DID have always been sensationalized and were first brought into public discourse through film.
The “Three Faces of Eve” was released in 1957 and introduced “multiple personalities” as a strange and pitiable condition.
In 1976, “Sybil” was released. It was a film adaptation of a fictionalized account “based on true story;” a distortion of truth for which we are continually subjected to stereotypes, prejudice and discrimination.
Pop culture has had an unhealthy obsession with us ever since.
In the 1980s and early ’90s, other fictionalized accounts “based on true stories” pulled us into scandals and moral panics that destroyed families, careers, lives and the credibility of all things related to plurality.
We became objects of unwelcome fascination and were said to have psychic powers.
We could fry kitchen appliances and change our bodies “with our minds.”
No “true story” has ever been told.
“Split” represents yet another gross parody of us based on fear, ignorance and sensationalism, only much worse. The harmful bigotry perpetuated by your horror film will inspire a new wave of revulsion and hatred against plurals and plurality.
It is a well-known fact that persons with mental illness are 10 times more likely to be victims of crime than commit them. Your film is yet another in a long tradition of portraying us as dangerous and unpredictable villains.
It makes us targets and encourages violence against us.
Lawmakers call us “insane.”
Doctors dismiss us as delusional for believing in ourselves.
Academics ridicule our very existence when they teach of it as “controversial” to new generations of practitioners.
Laypeople objectify us with their pity while whispering to each other:
“Well, you’ve seen that movie haven’t you?”
Fictional portrayals have real-world consequences.
Those of us with DID already face barriers to care and often insurmountable life challenges and violence from society’s prejudice against neurominorities.
Those of us without DID, for whom plurality is not a disorder, live in fear of ever being discovered, psychiatrically labeled and blackmailed into treatment.
Plurality in and of itself is not a disorder.
It exists both apart from and as a part of a disorder.
It is a way of being, living and relating to this world.
This is not a radical concept.
In fact, the criteria for DID in DSM-5 allow for the existence of non-disordered plurality beyond the purview of psychiatry.
In addition, many studies over the years estimate that anywhere from 1 to 3 percent of the general population meet the full criteria for DID.
One to 3 percent translates into roughly three to more than nine million people in the United States alone.
However, those of us meeting the criteria for DID and receiving treatment are the only plurals who can be documented.
The number of plurals living without DID may never be known.
Thus we remain invisible and afraid. Such is the life of a target.
As long as films like “Split” continue to be made and distributed, tens of millions across the world will suffer for it. Any hope for the visibility and dignity of the plural community diminishes with each ticket sold.
Now you know.
L & G, et al. for ΝΥX
S for NVFG
C & S for NS
R & T.A.M. for AC
J & J for OF
JH of TCS
K. et al. of K.M.
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Image via “Split” Facebook page.