'Me Before You' Director Responds to Criticism from Disability Advocates: 'It's a Fundamental Misunderstanding of What the Message Is'

Some disability advocates have taken umbrage with the film's depiction of one of its main characters, who is quadriplegic

Photo: Karwai Tang/WireImage

While the new romantic drama Me Before You has faced backlash, and even a protest, from some disability advocates, director Thea Sharrock said they have a “fundamental misunderstanding” of the film’s message.

Sharrock, in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, said she “didn’t quite anticipate” the reaction, which focuses on a crucial plot point in the film. (Warning: Spoilers ahead.)

Some disability advocates have taken umbrage with the film’s depiction of assisted suicide. The film centers around a quadriplegic man (played by The Hunger Games‘ Sam Claflin) who has a romance with his caregiver, played by Game of ThronesEmilia Clarke.

The decision regarding assisted suicide, advocates say, suggests that a disabled person’s life has less value or meaning than an able-bodied person. Members of the disability activism group Not Dead Yet organized a red carpet protest of the film’s premiere, according to The Telegraph.

“The message of the film is that disability is tragedy and disabled people are better off dead,” Ellen Clifford told BuzzFeed. “It comes from a dominant narrative carried by society and the mainstream media that says it is a terrible thing to be disabled.”

Not so, Sharrock told THR.

“It’s a fundamental misunderstanding of what the message is,” she said. “I was attracted to this because I love the almost traditional love story that lies behind it. It reminds me of films that I don’t think have been made for a while that used to be made quite a lot.

“And I love the bravery of the studios wanting to produce such a film. It’s a fictional story about how important the right to choose is. The message of the film is to live boldly, push yourself, don’t settle.”

Sharrock also told THR she was disappointed by protests from anyone who has not read the book upon which the film is based, or seen the film itself.

“I have no problem with people seeing this film and not liking it for 101 different reasons. You go into every project with that as a possibility,” she said.

But the reaction to Me Before You is more nuanced than a backlash. Sarah-Jane, a blogger who is disabled, told The Telegraph, “It’s good that Me Before You has provoked such conversation about disability, because I do think we need to tell more disabled stories, especially in films.”

“When I read the book, I didn’t see [Claflin’s character] Will as a plot device, as a ‘pity party’ or as an inspiration for the able bodied,” Sarah-Jane said. “I saw him as a layered, complex character with so much depth, and his decision to end his life doesn’t change that.

“Fiction isn’t always about telling stories that represent everyone; it’s about telling stories about complex individuals.”

Sharrock said she knew all along the film’s plot would likely elicit some strong feelings.

“I understood going into it how vulnerable a topic it is and susceptible to very strong opinions,” she said. “It has big themes in it that are very easy to make quick judgments on.”

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