There is a movie, “Me Before You”, that is opening Friday, June 3, 2016. According to the movie’s description on their IMDb website page, is about when “A girl in a small town forms an unlikely bond with a recently-paralyzed man she’s taking care of.” They did not mention a lot in that short logline/tagline about the movie. I can say that it is set in England. And it looks like a good, romantic dramedy. For those who do not know what a “dramedy” is, it is just what you are probably thinking it is, a hybrid of a drama and comedy. I remember reading about this movie, or more likely as I will mention in a moment, I saw either a television commercial or a trailer during the previews to one of the movies I saw a while back.
Usually, I know about all the movies and most television shows that feature a person with a disAbility, and especially those featuring a paraplegic, months before the general public. But I have finally put more of my attention on my film and entertainment business rather than being the advocate and watchdog that can take up a lot of time. So for this movie I found out along with the general public. I know that is very unusual and as soon as I finish my short film, and complete the development of two other projects, I will be right back at it!
Regardless of when I found out about this film, of course I was very interested in finding out more about it. For years I have been advocating for films like this is to be “authentic”, using a paraplegic actor in the role of the paraplegic character and therefore I wanted to know about the authenticity of this one because I did not recognize the actor playing the English paraplegic character. I am a huge fan of British movies and television shows, but that did not help me identify this actor and so when I Googled “Me Before You”, I found that he is an English actor named, Sam Claflin. And as usual, in Hollywood’s Standard Operating Procedures, he is an able bodied actor. It is a shame because the British entertainment industry has been leading the way by hiring actors with a disAbility to portray characters in their television and movies. As I have mentioned in other blog entries they are somewhat ahead of American entertainment on the authentic portrayals, but not in this case. Maybe not such a shock or surprise because although it is filmed in England, using primarily English actors, and some post-production editing was done there, it is MGM and New Line Cinema listed as the Production companies and they are completely Hollywood.
The next step that I check is the source. The writer. That could add some authenticity to the film and the character if the writer is a person with a disAbility, or their spouse or one of their children is and especailly, in this case, one who is paralyzed. This is one of the three creative positions I have advocated for movies to be more real, genuine, and authentic when portraying a paraplegic character. I have pleaded with, written specific details on how to be more authetnic, advocated, fought for these three main roles in the creative positions of a movie, the writer, director, and the actor of a paraplegic character – be a paraplegic. At least one of them. So in my search for the writer of this movie, I found out it is based on a very popular novel by the same name. The author, JoJo Moyes, is not a paraplegic and as far as I can tell has no personal connections to a paraplegic. The best I could find to her connections to the disAbled community was a professional one, as a “typer of braille statements for blind people for NatWest”. This according to her website where I also found out that she was an English journalist for 10 years and more recently “been a full time novelist since 2002, when her first book, ‘Sheltering Rain’ was published. Since then she has written a further eleven novels, all of which have been widely critically acclaimed.
“Jojo has won the Romantic Novelist’s Award twice, and ‘Me Before You’ has been nominated for Book of the Year at the UK Galaxy Book Awards. ‘Me Before You’ has since gone on to sell over 3 million copies worldwide.”
And now she is a famous screenwriter since she was hired to adapted her book, “Me Before You” for the film.
In my Google search, I did not want to dig too much further in the story of “Me Before You” because I have to admit, I was intrigued about the story. In viewing the movie trailer, it looked like it was a happy, romantic movie. The paralyzed character is portrayed to have hope when the “girl from a small town” comes into his life. He even has romantic aspirations for her and it appears she does for him. This is Hollywood so there will be a Hollywood ending. This could be one in which the disAbled character even though it is not authentic, maybe the story would somehow be. The paraplegic character was finding love and would have a “happily ever after” ending. After all, even though all of my screenplays and short stories leave out the disAbility stereotypes they do have in one way or another the happy ending. And as a reminder, the author is a famous romantic novelist! This is good and I am interested in watching this movie when it comes out. Therefore I do not want any spoilers!
Notice the hashtag – #LiveBoldly – I found these promoting the movie. And to clarify, the full quote that is listed on the promo picture on the right is, “Push yourself. Don’t settle. Just live well. Just LIVE.” — This is sounding good. And the trailer, the television commercial looks good. This has the possibility of being the kind of movie that features a paralyzed person in a good way despite not being authentically portrayed!
But the past couple of days I have seen some Facebook posts from my fellow disAbility advocates and especially the disAbility film advocates. The comments were very short and without knowledge of this movie, a bit cryptic. So I had to click on the articles they posted so I could find out what they were talking about. And I was not happy with what I found.
The first one was an article about an event that happened five days ago. On May 23, 2016, in the regular course of movie promotion, the star, well I am calling him the actor faking the disAbility of paraplegia in the upcoming movie, “Me Before You”, Sam Claflin went on the movie’s Twitter account to Tweet with fans for an hour. #AskSam #LiveBoldly – As I read the down, the author of the article, Dominick Evans, one of the more active disAbility film advocates, which in that respect reminds me a lot of myself five, ten years ago, wrote that the film is far from one that has a happy Hollywood ending. In fact,
THE PARALYZED CHARACTER KILLS HIMSELF.
Yes, I am giving spoilers with no alerts. And I have good reason for it. People should not go see this movie. The character is despressed because of his disAbility. And instead of any mention of getting him some mental help, he feels it is better to be dead than disAbled. He feels it is better he gives up his life for an able bodied person. I guess the life of a person with a disAbility is worthless? Or at least worth less than an able bodied person. They certainly did not show any of this in the trailer or televsion commercials!
They fooled me.
This is what I have fought against Hollywood from doing. Do not keep portraying this kind of stuff. And if they portrayed a paralyzed person LIVING BOLDLY then people who become paralyzed, injured or acquire some other disAbility, they will know they can LIVE BOLDLY TOO!
Dominick Evans, the disAbility advocate and author of this article, tells us that he is one who requires much the same level of caretaking as is portrayed in this movie. And he is a very active person with a disAbility. He is one that is an advocate, a filmmaker, a family man. He is not like the person portrayed in this movie.
The person/character portrayed in the movie is depressed and wanting to kill himself. Assisted sucicide. Euthenasian. Call it whatever you want but many people, especailly in these days of assisted LIVING, and accessible activities and jobs, help for PTSD that can affect those that are newly paralyzed and therefore no need to portray this kind of mindset.
Hollywood and I will say the author of the book, JoJo Moyes are perpetuating the NEGATIVE so often found in books and movies by people who have no idea what it is like to LIVE with a disAbility – especially those that they are portraying. That is why it should be people like myself and Dominick who is also a filmmaker. We need authentic portrayals. Writers, directors and actors with the same or similar disAbility of that which is being portrayed in the character.
Now I am going beyond just encouraging you to read his article. I am pleading with you. It is easy to read. It gives the points that are so important to those of us with a disAbility. And it shows the Tweets that many people with a disAbilty had asked Sam Claflin about his portrayal of a paralyzed person. It seems he did not answer any of them. And in fact, he left the Twitter Chat after 40 minutes – instead of staying the full hour as they promoted him to do. Please read this:
This shows that there are many people now active in voicing their opinions about this kind of portrayals. Non-authentic portrayals. In story and in performance. 10, 15, and certainly 20 years ago I felt like I was the only one that felt this way about these kinds of stereotypical movies. I have mentioned many of them before. And in those like this movie where the paralyzed person wants to die instead of living – “Whose Life Is It Anyway”, “Million Dollar Baby”, “The Sea Inside”. We have seen it. They are portrayed. Let those portrayals stand. It has been done. Let us have more POSITIVE and REALISTIC portrayals of the overwhelming majority of us with disAbility – with paralysis. We know about it. We live it. We do not focus on what we canot do but on what we can do.
Over the years I started to meet others with the same feelings and thoughts I had about these portrayals. At the time it was mostly actors with a disAbility. As a filmmaker, I was, I am writing the non-stereotypical screenplays. I wanted to make a difference in Hollywood and did everyting in my ABILITY to pitch it and prove it to them. But they never wanted to hear anything about change. And the small group of people with a disAbility that felt the same way – also felt like they were alone and fighting a system that would not hear our voices.
Now, in 2016, the momentum is growing. It has grown and is growing! There are many voices – growing in support of real authentic storytelling and authentic portrayals of the paraplegic life. Not just actors and filmmakers witha disAbility. I wish that I knew about this Twitter #askSam, #liveboldly event ahead of time so that I could add my voice – one that if anyone has been following my blog here, or will scroll down and read some of the blog entries knows – I have advocated everything that is being said in these Tweets for years. Even though I am not on Twitter that often because I have a hard time limiting my comments to only 140 characters – I would have done so to add my voice that has been a voice for 21 years! Instead, I will do this – add a blog post and promote it on social media in hopes to reach as many as possible. You! And you can pass this on!
Here is another great article in Self magazine online and again I plead with you to read it. If you “like” this page and/or you “like” me – then YOU need to read this to understand me and what I am doing with my work in Abilities United Productions.
I am sure there are a thousand other things I could say in this blog entry, and many I will wish I had added before posting it, but know this, I am NOT going to see this movie. I ask you to also not give your money to support this kind of portrayal of those with a disAbility.
And please pass this on in your social media. Even if it is not this blog entry – then one or both of the articles I posted above. Real easy to do when you are on their page. If you do not see the Social Media links – click on the address bar and copy the website’s address. Then paste it on your Facebook or Twitter page with comments such as that this is an offensive movie to people who are paralyzed. That you know a person who is paralyzed and he is offended by this portrayal and is asking you to not support it. This is an insult to people with a disAbility. We want to live. Life, even with a disAbility is worth living! Our lives are just as valuable as the able bodied life. And we want that to be portrayed – not this insult.
We really need to get this out over the next 7 days – before it opens on Friday, June 3rd. I was nearly fooled into it. You have been educated and if nothing else – you know what is going to happen and therefore it’s not worth your money! Do not let your friends be fooled. If you’re a real friend you will do this for them! If you are my friend, I ask you to do this. We need YOUR voice to be added to ours. The power of social media and the power of the pocketbook will tell them not to make this kind of portrals anymore. Thanks.