Editor’s note. The following was distributed by the disability rights organization “Not Dead Yet.”
Disability rights advocates who protested the film “Me Before You” in cities across the United States are calling on Warner Brothers to add a public service announcement to further releases of the film to help prevent copycat suicides.
In a letter sent Monday to Kevin Tsujihara, CEO of Warner Brothers, 19 national and 25 state, local and regional disability organizations stated:
“The public’s primary frame of reference can be shaped by what people see in movies and television. Storylines like this perpetuate stigma and discrimination based on disability. We are especially concerned that audiences will believe the desire to kill oneself is normal for those who need a high level of care. This inaccurate belief has been perpetuated by Warner Brothers track record of distributing other films, such as ‘Million Dollar Baby’ and ‘The Sea Inside,’ both of which emphasized the same dangerous message.
“. . . Therefore, to reduce the risk of a “copycat” suicide effect, as well as negative impacts on individuals and families in the midst of critical health care decisions, the responsible thing to do is add a public service announcement to online and home entertainment releases at the beginning of the film.”
The public service announcement recommended by the disability organizations is “Live On. Disabled Lives Are Worth Living,” produced by the Center for Disability Rights in Rochester, New York.
Disability protests of “Me Before You” received substantial press coverage in late May and June. Members of Not Dead Yet UK protested at the London premier on May 24th, which garnered significant coverage (Guardian, Buzzfeed) during the protest and in the days following.
The last big example of this tired theme [better dead than disabled] was “Million Dollar Baby,” which “came out before the major growth of social media but still resulted in protests covered in the New York Times,” said Stephen Drake, research analyst for Not Dead Yet (USA).
Disability rights writers and bloggers also blasted the film for its oppressive portrayal of living with significant disabilities like quadriplegia. Examples include articles by disability studies scholar Bill Peace and activist and filmmaker Dominick Evans. Some have been featured in mainstream outlets like Emily Ladau’s article in Salon, Lauren West’s in Huffington Post, and Ben Mattlin’s in the Chicago Tribune.
Not Dead Yet’s New England regional director John Kelly has the same level of spinal cord injury as Will Traynor, the lead male character in “Me Before You.”
“Book and screenplay author JoJo Moyes admits she knows nothing about quadriplegics,” said Kelly, “yet her ignorance is allowed to promote the idea that people like me are better off dead. No one’s suicide should be treated noble and inspirational. Our suicides should be viewed as tragedies like anyone else’s.”