• Emilia Clarke and Sam Claflin in a scene from "Me Before You." (AAP, AP)Source: AAP, AP
Disability advocates are calling for a boycott of new romantic drama, over its bleak depiction of a key character.
Sarah Norton

16 Jun 2016 - 10:48 AM  UPDATED 16 Jun 2016 - 11:26 AM

WARNING: Spoiler Alert for the story and the ending.

Disability rights campaigners are set to protest the Australian premiere of Me Before You, to highlight the romantic drama's treatment of a lead character. 

Tonight for the 7pm premiere at Village Cinemas in Melbourne disability activists will be holding banners and flyers, and calling on cinema patrons to boycott the film. They will be declaring that their lives are not a tragedy like they believe the movie portrays.

Australian campaigners are part of a global collaboration between the UK, US and New Zealand disability advocates. Jax Jacki Brown is one of the people with a disability behind the Melbourne protests, who feels passionate about protesting because the film's message is a harmful one.

Me Before You is a screen adaptation of Jojo Moye's novel of the same name. The narrative is about a young man, William (Will) Traynor, who falls in love with his carer, Louisa Clark, after he is paralysed from an accident. Ultimately Will ends his life through euthanasia.  

“The message that you are better off dead than disabled that this film perpetuates is really damaging to disabled people," Jax Jacki Brown tells SBS Movies. "It reinforces the idea in the minds of the non-disabled public that having a disability is a terrible tragedy when many of us feel that it is an important part of who we are and are proud of our disability identity.

“It is an old tired stereotype and one that needs to disappear.”

The advocate is passionate about people with disabilities feeling that their lives and contribution to society are of value.

“I feel passionate about…advocating for us to live and to get the support and resources to live the lives that we deserve. This film does the opposite to that.” 

Writer Mik Scarlet has a disability and watched the film to write a review for Disability Now. Scarlet has been happily married for 10 years, had a career in the media for 25 years and has been in a wheelchair since he was a teenager. He considers the film to be “really troubling.”

Scarlet said the film started like any 'chick flick' – setting up a series of stereotypical one-dimensional characters - but he found himself investing in the characters at the beginning.

“I longed for the possibility of a truly beautiful film that broke the mould and showed a positive portrayal of love and disability. Sadly I knew the truth of what was coming,” he writes in his review.

“The film ends after Will’s death... with Louisa reading his parting letter to her. Go 'live boldly' he tells her, 'don’t settle'. You know, don’t settle for a disabled millionaire. The horror".

Scarlet makes no apology for being a campaigner against assisted suicide because he was in a similar situation to Will Traynor once - he contemplated ending his life, but he didn’t know how to and that's what saved him.

“So here I am 35 years later with the kind of life that would be perfect for just this sort of romantic novel or film, which I would never have had if I had have managed to find a way to die,” he writes.

Watch the trailer for 'Me Before You'

Author Moyes (who adapted her own novel for the screen) has responded to the backlash, saying that her narrative was inspired by real life, and that Will's predicament is "difficult to judge".

“I found this story profoundly shocking, I couldn’t understand it. The more I read in to the subject the more I realised that it was an extraordinary situation," Moyes told Stylist magazine.

“Ultimately, this is a love story. It’s about one woman trying to understand a decision she finds incomprehensible,” Moyes says. “The fact is…nobody else agrees with what [Will] decides to do."

Moyes said that she understands why the difficult subject matter would attract strong opinions, but she is surprised at the level of the backlash the film has attracted, given there has been no outcry to her novel in the (almost) five years since she wrote it. Moyes told Stylist that that the focus of both the novel and film is on autonomy and choice, and that there is no 'message' beyond Will's own story.

"I had a story to tell about ordinary people in an extraordinary situation. I think it's just a very human story," she said.

SBS has reached out to the film's local distributor Roadshow Films for comment.

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