August 1, 2016
Kevin Tsujihara, CEO
4000 Warner Boulevard
Burbank, CA. 91522
Dear Mr. Tsujihara:
We, the undersigned national, state, local and regional disability organizations representing tens of thousands of people with disabilities, are writing to express our urgent concerns about the negative impact of the plotline and treatment of the assisted suicide of a lead character with quadriplegia in the film Me Before You, and request that a public service announcement accompany any and all future distributions of versions of this movie.
Regardless of the intent of the writer, director and producers, the film’s message is that no amount of wealth, family support, romantic love, or ability to continue one’s career are enough to make life worth living with such a disability. For people with disabilities, and perceptions of non-disabled audiences, this antiquated trope is dangerous.
The public’s primary frame of reference can be shaped by what people see in movies and television. Storylines like this perpetuate stigma and discrimination based on disability. We are especially concerned that audiences will believe the desire to kill oneself is normal for those who need a high level of care. This inaccurate belief has been perpetuated by Warner Brothers track record of distributing other films, such as Million Dollar Baby and The Sea Inside, both of which emphasized the same dangerous message.
In an unprecedented level of response to Me Before You’s anti-disability better-dead-than-disabled narrative, over 20 articles and blogs by disability advocates and scholars have been published in the mainstream and disability press. The opposition to the messages contained in the film has also been reported by mainstream media, including Buzzfeed, MSNBC, and many more. Direct actions by disability advocates leafleting at theaters have occurred in over 15 U.S. cities and at least four countries.
We don’t believe that any minority group, including people with disabilities, would accept Hollywood repeatedly portraying a lead character’s suicide as a valid, even romantic and courageous, choice? Nor do we believe any group, including ours, would blithely accept the insensitive promotion of the hashtag #LiveBoldly, which only applies to the lead character’s love interest, who not only does not share his minority status, but who also benefits by inheriting his wealth after his suicide.
You should also be aware that the portrayal of Will Traynor’s assisted suicide is not consistent with prevailing media guidelines about suicide, in that the details of its handling in the film risk a “copycat” effect, whether or not the film is identified as a factor by those involved in such a tragic and irreversible action.
In television, when programs address topics like this (e.g., suicide, sexual assault and others that contain triggers), it has become commonplace for a trigger warning and a public service announcement to appear with information about where to get help and additional resources.
Therefore, to reduce the risk of a “copycat” suicide effect, as well as negative impacts on individuals and families in the midst of critical health care decisions, the responsible thing to do is add a public service announcement to online and home entertainment releases at the beginning of the film. The announcement should clearly state the movie does not condone suicide or assisted suicide and include contact information for the suicide prevention hotline. The public service announcement we recommend is Live On. Disabled Lives Are Worth Living.
Please respond to this letter no later than August 12, 2016, by contacting Diane Coleman, JD (firstname.lastname@example.org) President and CEO of Not Dead Yet.
Not Dead Yet
The ADA Legacy Project
ADA Legacy Project
American Association of People with Disabilities
Association of Programs for Rural Independent Living
Association of University Centers on Disabilities
Disability Power & Pride
Disability Rights Center
Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund
Disabled Parents Rights
Disabled Queers in Action
Institute on Disability Culture
National Council on Independent Living
National Organization of Nurses with Disabilities
NMD United, Inc.
Not Dead Yet
Parent to Parent USA
The Road To Freedom Bus Tour
United Spinal Association
State, Local and Regional Organizations
Access to a Better Tomorrow, Inc., Gainesville, GA
Blue Ridge Independent Living Center, Roanoke, VA
Center for Independent Living Of Central Pennsylvania, Harrisburg, PA
Center for People With Disabilities, Boulder, CO
Direct Center for Independence, Tuscon, AZ
Disability Caucus of Democratic Party of Georgia
Great Lakes ADA Center, Chicago, IL
Lane Independent Living Alliance, Eugene, OR
Liberty Resources, Inc., Philadelphia, PA
Liberty Resources Home Choices, Philadelphia, PA
Liberty Community Connections, Philadelphia, PA
Liberty Housing Development Corporation, Philadelphia, PA
Memphis Center for Independent Living
New York Association on Independent Living
Not Dead Yet Montana
Prairie Independent Living Resource Center, Inc., Hutchinson, KS
Ron Mace Center, Raleigh, NC
Vermont Center for Independent Living
Westside Center for Independent Living, Los Angeles, CA
Wheels in Motion/Central Pennsylvania ADAPT
Wisconsin Council On Physical Disabilities