This is the second part of a two-part blog about the film Me Before You, which ignited a critical global response from the disability community around issues of disability representation in film, assisted suicide, and other ableist trends in our society. (Read Part 1 here.) As so much has already been written about the film by people with and without disabilities, I would like to use this blog as an opportunity to respond to comments made by the film's writer, director, actors, and other supporters of the film, as I believe this is the best way to create a true dialogue between the different perspectives and establish a brighter path toward improved representation of people with disabilities in film and television.
Me Before You featured scenes of Will before his accident, so it had to cast a nondisabled actor. This argument has been used to defend casting nondisabled actors to portray characters with disabilities in Me Before You, The Theory of Everything, and many others, but under closer scrutiny, this argument does not hold up. In Me Before You, for example, the scenes of Will before his accident can be reduced to about 3-4 minutes of screen time out of 110 minutes, and they exist primarily to provide stark contrast to the immovable, post-accident Will – a worthy endeavor considering the filmmakers must make Will’s ultimate decision believable. However, considering the brevity of these pre-accident scenes, they could have been enacted using a stunt double, portrayed by a different actor, filmed exclusively from Will’s point of view, or possibly even created using computer-generated imagery (CGI). And if these options seem unrealistic, the same effect of these few scenes could have similarly been achieved through dialogue. But on the whole, this is a weak excuse, especially when you consider how much the film would have benefited from an actual actor with a spinal cord injury who could bring nuance rooted in real experience to the role. Of course, it is acting, which by nature requires actors to imagine themselves in situations they have not experienced; still, basic parameters do exist within the casting process (e.g., a 12-year-old would not be cast to play a 90-year-old man, men are not regularly cast as women, and white people are not cast to portray people of color, etc.), and to not extend those same parameters to people with disabilities is wrong – especially to the capable actors and actresses with disabilities who remain unemployed while nondisabled actors secure the few disabled roles available.
|An image of Me Before You's Will Traynor prior to his spinal cord injury|
|An infographic shows a block of text beside a signed black and white photo|
of disabled actor Harold Russell holding a telephone to his ear.
In protesting films that paint disability as a miserable experience and pushing for more positive portrayals of disability in film, we hope to communicate to the world that we are a proud social group, that we experience discrimination, that we have civil rights, and that films have the tremendous power to alter perceptions and create change.
Have you seen Me Before You and other films or TV shows about disability or with disabled characters? What did you think? Have you seen films with positive portrayals of characters with disabilities? What are they? Tell us in the comments!