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To Jojo, Thea, Emilia, Sam and the Creatives From 'Me Before You'

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You are part of the problem. I mean that in the kindest way possible. Of course you don’t mean to be part of the problem. As Emilia Clarke said to The Guardian, it wasn’t your “intention” to create a story that says disabled people are burdens and better off dead, to perpetuate the notion that it’s fine to cast able-bodied actors as disabled people, to suggest it’s OK for people with disabilities to wallow and writhe in self pity rather than use their vast amounts of wealth to change the world around them.

No, those might not have been your intentions. But that is what you have created.

I cannot believe in 2016 we still have to put pen to paper and waste energy saying it is not OK to cast an able-bodied person as disabled in a mainstream movie. The director, Thea Sharrock, has said, “I wanted to stick to the universal theme of the simple and yet wonderful way these people fall in love.” And yet, no disabled actor was cast. Did you look for one? My guess is no. You chose to tell a difficult and problematic story about a specific group of people, without including anyone with a disability on the creative team. The book’s writer isn’t disabled, the stars don’t have a disability. Sharrock is not disabled. How is this story “universal?”

Then there is the feminist issue. After the main character shuffles off this mortal coil, Clarke’s character is left with a large sum of money so she can finally go to school, see the world, live the live she could have never lived before. Feminism is real; it just needs a suicidal trust fund baby to help it along.

But of course, you are artists trying to work in a difficult and cutthroat industry. You have people above you, film execs and distribution managers who want to make money, which is why this film needed stars. Disability on screen still makes people uncomfortable, so we candy coat the issue and tie it up with a nice little bow. That way no one needs to think about the long term problems people with disabilities have to face.

You also feel incredibly blessed to have the chance to tell this story, to find work in this industry, to have a paycheck for a few months. Never mind the fact that for vulnerable and newly injured people who are struggling to see if society has a place for them, this film shouts a resounding, “No.” Forget about the young couple who just had their baby diagnosed with cerebral palsy and wants to know what sort of life and opportunities are out there for people who can’t do everything independently. You just feel grateful to be able to tell a story about two people in love and make money off it. Who cares about the social consequences?

When artists stop listening to the voice of truth and start telling socially “acceptable” stories to line their pockets, we are in trouble indeed. This film will sadly be held up as an example of “diversity in filmmaking.” Filmmakers and execs will say, “but we are telling stories about disabled people, there is diversity in the industry. We don’t need to try harder.” This film will stand in my way.

I’m sure somewhere there have been disabled men (and women) in love who decided death was a better fate than being “a burden.” Perhaps the story does even speak a truth of some sort (although given this character is financially loaded, it is hard to see him being a burden to anyone). But when so few films featuring disability are released every year, there is an obligation to get it right, not suggest those of us with disabilities are better off dead.

As a writer, I know the book you write is not the same book everyone else reads. Language, for all its wonder, is a communication device which often falls short. Author Jojo Moyes may argue she just wanted to tell a good story with a sad ending. But for those of us with disabilities, who are told regularly by well-meaning strangers at the supermarket that “if I was disabled like you, I would kill myself,” this film is not helpful. Moyes needs to realize the reality of the world she writes in rather than fluffing up a very real problem many of us face daily.

Perhaps most disturbing of all is that “most people who do choose assisted suicide — in the states where it is legal [in the U.S.] — the top five reasons don’t include pain whatsoever,” according to Stephanie Woodward, Director of Advocacy, Disability Services. The reasons are instead directed towards social issues concerning disability and a loss of independence. This implies people find simply being disabled, a natural condition that affects everyone at some point in their lives, worth killing themselves over. They don’t do in because they are in pain, they do it because society doesn’t have a place for disabled people. Rather than writing a story which looks at that problematic issue, you created a story which encourages it.

If you or someone you know needs help, see our suicide prevention resources.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Originally published: May 31, 2016
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