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Live boldly, unless you’re disabled?

Melissa Graham

July 25, 2016

Members of the disability community are outraged at the creation of the movie “Me Before You” released in May, many are encouraging moviegoers to boycott the movie. The film based on Jojo Moyes’ bestselling romantic novel about disability and assisted suicide, with a non-disabled actor playing the role of a disabled person.

This movie, and many others before it, reinforce harmful stereotypes about life with a disability particularly that disability and depression naturally go hand in hand. Many activists have also pointed out that there is a big difference between people sharing their personal lives and experiences of disability and a fictional story written by a non-disabled person romanticizing stereotypes that further marginalize disabled people.

We have a responsibility to call out these stories, so that their toxic messages do not spread. Some moviegoers suggest that “it’s just one story” or “they don’t mean you”, but these thoughts miss the point; this is part of systemic problem.

The tragic and inaccurate portrayal of disability in media becomes accepted as true by those who have no personal connection with disability, including policy makers. Many well-meaning people with normative bodies and minds continue to see disabledness as something to mourn, or to mould into something more acceptable. They don’t have better stories either.

Disabled people are volunteers, workers, parents, friends, and activists, but these realities are not often portrayed on screen. People with disabilities were not involved in the making of the film, yet there are many actors with disabilities that cannot get work, and many organizations supporting disabled people in the film industry.

It’s important that the stories we tell and share don’t perpetuate marginalization and oppression.

Disabled people have many better stories to tell. Here are a few ideas to start with:

·               A group of disabled people sharing stories of their struggles through the years, and how their unity helped them through it.

·               Maybe those disabled people are on a spaceship, as part of a rebellion.

·               Two young disabled people from divided houses fall in love. In an act of rebellion against family pressure, they don’t kill themselves, but instead start a family of their own.

·               A disability activist searches for meaning in their own life while fighting for safeguards in assisted suicide laws.

·               A group of disabled/Mad friends go to Las Vegas for a bachelor party. They wake up the next morning to discover one of their friends is missing, and encounter various shenanigans while looking for them.

Ableist stories are all many of us have, they’re woven into capitalist societies that see disabled bodies and minds as inadequate. Ableist stories and messages might not impact all of us equally, but they do cause harm. We need to tell our own stories. We need less suicide and more solidarity. Preferably with rebel forces on space cruisers.

If you know someone who is struggling, please ask if they would like support.

Join the 6th annual Toronto Disability Pride March on September 24

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