Hollywood’s Dangerous Assumptions about People with Disabilities

You could say I have a certain empathy for people with disabilities. That’s why, based on some of the publicity surrounding the movie “You Before Me,” I think this is one I will not see.

The film centers on a young man who is a quadriplegic as the result of an accident, effectively ending life as he knew it. In his new life, he takes on a caregiver, and in true Hollywood style, they fall in love.

It’s not much of a spoiler when the trailer of the movie and all of its pre-publicity lead us to the ending. Apparently, the disabled young man has to decide if he will live for his love or commit suicide.  His newfound love has a decision to make.  She can convince him that life is worth living, or she can support his state of mind that life is not worth living due to his disability and help him end it all.  We can guess how it ends.

News reports are that that some of the able-bodied movie critics walked out of the screening crying, moved by the gloominess of it all.

That’s a summary of what I know based on the coverage and reviews I’ve seen, and for me that’s enough. Enough to determine that I don’t want to see this movie because I just don’t find the subject matter entertaining (even if it is billed a romantic comedy, which it is). But perhaps even more importantly, I don’t like the message it sends or the dangerous assumptions it makes.

At the core of this film is the question: Is life worth living if it is sometimes far less than perfect?

For most of us, there’s something inside that responds adamantly, “Yes!” It’s called our survival mechanism.  But some with disabilities may be on the fence.

I’d hate to think of what might happen if a few with disabilities watched a film like this, and in some way it helped them suppress their own survival instincts.

This is not to say that all entertainment should be hopelessly idealistic. But the coverage surrounding this film and others like it indicates that Hollywood is well along the path of embracing, if not pushing a worldview that undermines the very core of all of the systems, programs and support infrastructure that serves millions of people who have some sort of disability.

It tells them, their lives are not as valuable as others. That they and the world might be better off if they were not here. Perhaps more scarily, that those closest to them would be better of if they were not here.  That is some serious stuff. To be sure, it’s not entertaining. It’s not escapism, and it’s not hypothetical.

In the public relations profession, at some point we have to decide if we can support a message on a personal level, and if we cannot then we cannot do the PR project justice.

Often as not, our criteria is based on our own personal concerns and values. Will our work support delivery of a message that is beneficial to or harmful to society?  For this reason, not only could I not watch this movie, but I’d not take an assignment that would endorse the philosophical basis for a movie like this.

Instead, I prefer the uplifting statement made by the very real and not fictional Katie Breland on her wedding day. She is paralyzed, but she made a much different choice than the make-believe characters in a novel or a movie. Her story may bring a tear to your eye, but I can assure you it will be a happy one.

For more information on Katie Breland’s story, please visit this link at the Today Show.

For more information on Katie’s trainer, and other unprecedented work he has done, visit Barwis Methods.

Also published on Medium.

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