Disability rights advocates in Ballina are preparing to protest a movie labelled by disabled people as a ‘disability hate film’, Me Before You.
Hollywood’s latest offering has sparked international outrage, with widespread protests held across the United States and United Kingdom, including at the London premiere last month. Large protests were also seen in Melbourne and Perth this week.
The film opened in Ballina on Thursday, and local disability activists and allies will be present at the screening at the Ballina Fair Cinemas, at 7.25pm tonight (Friday 17th June).
The film, which depicts a lead character with quadriplegia who decides to commit suicide, has been blasted by disability rights writers and bloggers for its oppressive portrayal of living with significant disabilities.
Damien Becker, one of the local protest organisers, believes that the film perpetuates the common perception that disabled lives have less meaning, dignity and nobility than those of able-bodied people.
‘It’s extremely offensive to me as a disabled person that Hollywood is romanticising the idea that it’s preferable to be dead than to live with disability,’ he said.
Kelly Cox, a Ballina-based disability advocate and wheelchair user, agrees.
‘When my husband sustained a spinal cord injury (the same disability type as Will) people made comments and judgments about the value of his life and assumed that in the blink of an eye he was suddenly worth less,’ she said.
‘Movies like this contribute to those judgments. When people assumed his life wasn’t worth living anymore or suggested I just leave him, it is because they have been sold a lie about disability. This movie is another lie and will cause more judgment and more hurt.’
Disability activist and former Lismore resident Jax Jacki Brown says that the film romanticises and promotes suicide at a time when the rest of the community is actively advocating for suicide prevention.
‘It is a huge concern that this movie is promoting the message that we’re better off dead, especially for the 12,000 individuals with spinal cord injury living in Australia today,’ she said.
‘It’s not a romance. It’s a disability snuff movie.’
In similar protests in Perth on Wednesday, disability activist Samantha Connor used irony to get her point across by taking donations to send her to the same Swiss suicide clinic used in the film.
She was alarmed to find many filmgoers donated without question.
‘People don’t understand why the movie is a problem but we are constantly told that death is preferable to being disabled, and they imagine that our lives are so narrow that we can’t possibly live well, live boldly,’ she said.
‘This movie reinforces those narratives [and] stereotypes. Why, at a time when suicide prevention messages are stronger than ever, are we being told that it’s romantic and noble to die?’
It’s also worth watching out for what happens when extreme right-wing narratives play a role in the disability debate, as in the UK:
This is a few years old, and the situation has hopefully improved since then.