Hollywood is finally heading in a direction I’ve been wanting to see it go without even realising how much I wanted it to. For me, it’s not like I’ve never been able to relate to a character on screen. I’ve been able to relate to people of strength, people who show vulnerability, those who struggle and those who succeed. It really wasn’t until I saw a part of my life appear on screen, that is out of the ordinary, that I realised how much I wanted to see it up there. Sadly, even in today's world, rarely do we see main characters of a film or television show live their life in a wheelchair. Me Before You is hopefully the start of an inclusive change.
The main character of the film (based on the novel of the same name) is Will Traynor, a powerful, self-assured man who has become a quadriplegic as the result of a traffic incident. I make sure to distinguish that he has become a disabled man because that in itself is a very different experience to that of someone who has lived their entire life with some sort of physical impairment.
From watching the film, it is quite obvious the film has been written from the perspective of an able-bodied person, which is by no means a bad thing. It gives a perspective that a mass audience will be able to resonate with and feel comfortable with because it gives them a sense of familiarity. However, we do see snippets of the behind-the-scenes of what life can be like for someone who relies on others for the physical demands in life. A shower chair. A modified car. These small glimpses are a sign that audiences might be ready for a more intimate and realistic perspective from someone who actually lives like the character on screen. I myself can be pretty self sufficient at times. I go out by myself, I work just like anyone else and find struggles throughout my journey just as any other human being on this planet. However, like the character of Will Traynor, I need the assistance of others to get dressed in the morning, take a shower, transport me places etc.
It wasn't until seeing these parts of my life mirrored on the screen in front of me, did I truly realise how much I craved seeing myself more accurately represented in today’s media.
There has been a lot of criticism in regards to this film's portrayal of how depressive life in a chair can be and how the actor portraying the character is actually able-bodied in real life. To that last point, at the beginning of the film the character is shown pre-accident so it makes sense they would cast someone who is able to carry out this scene without having to change actors post-accident. While it would be absolutely amazing to see someone who is actually quadriplegic in real life playing a character who is quadripledgic on screen, this just didn't happen to be the role for it.
To the first point, about the depressing tone this story can invoke about life confined to a chair, it is just that, a story. A story about a man who is too stubborn to envisage his life as something other than what he is used to. I think most of us can relate to the fear of having your freedom, no matter what amount of freedom you have, taken away. Until you are living in that situation yourself, it seems like an impossible feat to overcome. For those of us who know what life is like when you have to rely on the assistance of others, we know that life isn’t always going to be simple just because the world is the way it is, but we also know that life can be amazing, unpredictable, fun, infuriating, and inspiring - just as life should be for anyone. Instead of taking offence to one portrayal on the silver screen, see the positives it can bring about. This one story can begin to open doors for more stories about characters living with impairments. It says we can be strong enough to lead a Hollywood film. It says, “Here is what we know currently, what else can we learn?” If you are not happy with how people with disabilities have been portrayed on screen, whether in this film or other screen mediums - go write a script, a teleplay, a novel. Now that a film like Me Before You has been green-lit by Hollywood, here’s hoping their door will open to more characters that will give audiences a truly realistic portrayal of what life in a chair can be like.