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Watch author Jojo Moyes respond to controversy over the portrayal of disability in Me Before You

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When Jojo Moyes’ tragic romance novel, Me Before You, was released in 2012, it received rave reviews and became an international bestseller – with over six million copies whipped off shelves, to date.

This year, the author adapted the novel for the big screen but, instead of being met with the expected praise, it faced a strong and impassioned backlash.

The film – starring Sam Claflin (The Hunger Games) and Emilia Clarke of Game of Thrones fame – tells the story of a wealthy, Jack the Lad adventurer city boy named Will Traynor, who becomes quadriplegic after being hit by a motorbike one day whilst crossing the road. The story follows his life after the accident and the complex relationship he develops with his carer, Louisa Clarke (played by Clark). Despite the pair's budding romance, Traynor continues down the path of seeking assisted suicide to put an end to what he considers to be an unbearable existence. 

Last week, when the film premiered in London, disability rights campaigners from the Not Dead Yet group staged a protest on the red carpet, criticising the story for its negative portrayal of disability, and claiming it endorsed the message that assisted suicide was a reasonable response to being faced with such an injury. 

Moyes has defended her depiction in a video chat with Stylist (watch below).

me before you

The film has been criticised for its portrayal of disability and its apparent support of assisted suicide.

Many called the film ableist – suggesting that it was discriminatory in favour of able-bodied people, fostering the belief that it would be better to die than to continue life with a disability. Critics were also frustrated that the story of a quadriplegic man's struggles were being told by someone who is able-bodied. 

On social media, the hashtags #MeBeforeAbleism, #MeBeforeEuthanasia and #LiveBoldly began to circulate, as people told their own stories of disabled experience, and expressed their hurt at the content of the film. Some even referred to the film as a ‘disability snuff movie’.

Stylist spoke to Jojo Moyes about the controversy behind the film.

The author says she was initially surprised, seeing as: “in four and a half years of reader responses I have never had anybody take that message from this story.”

She explains that the story was inspired by her own “family situations” of having relatives who required 24-hour care, as well as a real-life news story about a quadriplegic man who persuaded his parents to take him to a centre for assisted suicide which she found “profoundly shocking.”

“I just, I couldn’t understand it,” she says. “The more I read into the subject, the more I realised that it was a kind of extraordinary situation but also one that it was very difficult to judge, because unless you put yourself in somebody’s shoes, I think you shouldn’t judge their action.”

me before you

Some have called the film 'ableist'

Explaining her portrayal of Traynor’s decision to seek assisted suicide at Swiss clinic, Dignitas, Moyes says:

“The fact is, in the film as in the book, nobody else agrees with what he decides to do. This is not by any means sending out a message.

“It's just about one character – it’s nothing more than that.”

Watch the full interview below. 

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