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A Hollywood film about disability has a lot of people feeling left out.

Some spoilers for the book/film 'Me Before You' ahead.

A Hollywood film about disability has a lot of people feeling left out.

The trailer for the upcoming romance film "Me Before You" promises everything you expect from a good love story.

"Me Before You" stars Emilia Clarke ("Game of Thrones") and Sam Claflin ("The Hunger Games") and is an adaptation of the 2012 book of the same name. The trailer promises an epic love story between Will, a quadriplegic man (played by the able-bodied Claflin) and his caretaker Louisa (Clarke).

It has everything you expect from the genre — conventionally attractive people, hair that somehow doesn't look horrible in the rain, lots of crying, remarkably well-lit bedrooms, and so many feelings and grandiose declarations of love.



What the trailer dances around, however, is that much of the driving force of the film is Will's belief that he'd be better off dead than alive and paralyzed. His parents, desperate to save him, hire Louisa as a caretaker. Will agrees to wait six months before seeking an assisted suicide, and Louisa spends that time trying to encourage him to keep on living.

In the end (spoiler alert), Will chooses death over life as a quadriplegic, and Louisa is able to better appreciate and live her own life as a result of having known him.

According to many in the disabled community, the film pushes some harmful messages about people with disabilities and the kinds of lives they lead.

Disability rights blogger Kim Sauder addresses some of the issues at The Huffington Post, writing, "It’s a film about disability and assisted suicide which is troubling enough, but is made worse by the fact that it uses a non-disabled actor in the role of a quadriplegic."

It certainly doesn't help that Will's character was not born quadriplegic. His character was paralyzed as the result of a car accident and decides that life with a disability is not a life worth living. If Will were a real, living person, this is certainly Will's decision to make. But Will is not a real person. Will is a character whose story and decisions are controlled by a screenwriter and director, both of whom in this case are able-bodied.

Photos courtesy of Warner Bros.

Quadriplegic people are perfectly capable of leading rich, full lives. According to "Me Before You," however, living a life in paralysis is not a life worth living very long.

"The non-disabled media heavily over-represents disability discourses that fit into ableist stereotypes, which makes it harder for the viewer to differentiate between the feelings of individuals and the experiences and feelings of all disabled people," Sauder writes.

On May 23, Clafin was scheduled to do a live chat to promote the film. Twitter users flooded the hashtag, eager to make their voices heard.

For an hour, fans were going to have a chance to engage Claflin in real time using the hashtag #AskSam. People with disabilities — who were already frustrated with the painfully-ironic #LiveBoldly hashtag the film was promoting — used the opportunity to make themselves heard:




Unfortunately, the #AskSam Twitter chat was brought to an abrupt and early ending 20 minutes before it was slated to begin ... without Claflin answering a single question.

It's not clear whether this was Claflin's call or a decision made by a PR rep or just a terribly unfortunate accident. Whichever way, it reinforced the erasure of actual people with disabilities — which was exactly the problem in the first place.


Photo courtesy of Warner Bros.

Their questions unanswered, a group of activists hijacked the film's #LiveBoldly hashtag, using it to share their own stories.

"To paint a movie with such a tragic outcome as a love story and the choice of assisted suicide as rational … reinforces the stereotype that disabled people have such awful lives that death is preferable," actor/writer Mik Scarlet told Upworthy. "My life turned out to be more amazingly wonderful than any of my non-disabled friends might have dreamed of, let alone a paralyzed wheelchair user. Where is that story?"

As it turns out, there are a lot stories just like it — and plenty of people with disabilities willing to share their stories with anyone open to listening:






Including people who are part of the community whose story is being told can only serve to make the story stronger.

Whether that means making sure they're consulting on the script, on set, or — better yet — getting opportunities to tell their own stories on screen or casting an actual quadriplegic to star in the film, taking steps to make sure the story respects the lived experiences of the people who will be affected by the way characters like them are represented is a good thing.

"The media needs to find a way to talk about disability in a way that does not make disabled people look like they are burdens," said activist and filmmaker Dominick Evans. "My disability requires a similar level of care to the protagonist in this film, so it's hard to see a movie where my life, essentially, is devalued on-screen."

Photo courtesy of Warner Bros.

Nobody's perfect, and Hollywood will certainly make similar mistakes and tell similar stories again. Hopefully, the backlash to "Me Before You" will inspire other authors and filmmakers to take a different approach when telling the stories of people with disabilities in the future.

Courtesy of Amita Swadhin
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In 2016, Amita Swadhin, a child of two immigrant parents from India, founded Mirror Memoirs to help combat rape culture. The national storytelling and organizing project is dedicated to sharing the stories of LGBTQIA+ Black, indigenous people, and people of color who survived child sexual abuse.

"Whether or not you are a survivor, 100% of us are raised in rape culture. It's the water that we're swimming in. But just as fish don't know they are in water, because it's just the world around them that they've always been in, people (and especially those who aren't survivors) may need some help actually seeing it," they add.

"Mirror Memoirs attempts to be the dye that helps everyone understand the reality of rape culture."

Amita built the idea for Mirror Memoirs from a theater project called "Undesirable Elements: Secret Survivors" that featured their story and those of four other survivors in New York City, as well as a documentary film and educational toolkit based on the project.

"Secret Survivors had a cast that was gender, race, and age-diverse in many ways, but we had neglected to include transgender women," Amita explains. "Our goal was to help all people who want to co-create a world without child sexual abuse understand that the systems historically meant to help survivors find 'healing' and 'justice' — namely the child welfare system, policing, and prisons — are actually systems that facilitate the rape of children in oppressed communities," Amita continues. "We all have to explore tools of healing and accountability outside of these systems if we truly want to end all forms of sexual violence and rape culture."

Amita also wants Mirror Memoirs to be a place of healing for survivors that have historically been ignored or underserved by anti-violence organizations due to transphobia, homophobia, racism, xenophobia, and white supremacy.

Amita Swadhin

"Hearing survivors' stories is absolutely healing for other survivors, since child sexual abuse is a global pandemic that few people know how to talk about, let alone treat and prevent."

"Since sexual violence is an isolating event, girded by shame and stigma, understanding that you're not alone and connecting with other survivors is alchemy, transmuting isolation into intimacy and connection."

This is something that Amita knows and understands well as a survivor herself.

"My childhood included a lot of violence from my father, including rape and other forms of domestic violence," says Amita. "Mandated reporting was imposed on me when I was 13 and it was largely unhelpful since the prosecutors threatened to incarcerate my mother for 'being complicit' in the violence I experienced, even though she was also abused by my father for years."

What helped them during this time was having the support of others.

"I'm grateful to have had a loving younger sister and a few really close friends, some of whom were also surviving child sexual abuse, though we didn't know how to talk about it at the time," Amita says.

"I'm also a queer, non-binary femme person living with complex post-traumatic stress disorder, and those identities have shaped a lot of my life experiences," they continue. "I'm really lucky to have an incredible partner and network of friends and family who love me."

"These realizations put me on the path of my life's work to end this violence quite early in life," they said.

Amita wants Mirror Memoirs to help build awareness of just how pervasive rape culture is. "One in four girls and one in six boys will be raped or sexually assaulted by the age of 18," Amita explains, "and the rates are even higher for vulnerable populations, such as gender non-conforming, disabled, deaf, unhoused, and institutionalized children." By sharing their stories, they're hoping to create change.

"Listening to stories is also a powerful way to build empathy, due to the mirror neurons in people's brains. This is, in part, why the project is called Mirror Memoirs."

So far, Mirror Memoirs has created an audio archive of BIPOC LGBTQI+ child sexual abuse survivors sharing their stories of survival and resilience that includes stories from 60 survivors across 50 states. This year, they plan to record another 15 stories, specifically of transgender and nonbinary people who survived child sexual abuse in a sport-related setting, with their partner organization, Athlete Ally.

"This endeavor is in response to the more than 100 bills that have been proposed across at least 36 states in 2021 seeking to limit the rights of transgender and non-binary children to play sports and to receive gender-affirming medical care with the support of their parents and doctors," Amita says.

In 2017, Mirror Memoirs held its first gathering, which was attended by 31 people. Today, the organization is a fiscally sponsored, national nonprofit with two staff members, a board of 10 people, a leadership council of seven people, and 500 members nationally.

When the pandemic hit in 2020, they created a mutual aid fund for the LGBTQIA+ community of color and were able to raise a quarter-million dollars. They received 2,509 applications for assistance, and in the end, they decided to split the money evenly between each applicant.

While they're still using storytelling as the building block of their work, they're also engaging in policy and advocacy work, leadership development, and hosting monthly member meetings online.

For their work, Amita is one of Tory's Burch's Empowered Women. Their donation will go to Mirror Memoirs to help fund production costs for their new theater project, "Transmutation: A Ceremony," featuring four Black transgender, intersex, and non-binary women and femmes who live in California.

"I'm grateful to every single child sexual survivor who has ever disclosed their truth to me," Amita says. "I know another world is possible, and I know survivors will build it, together with all the people who love us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons

Wil Wheaton speaking to an audience at 2019 Wondercon.

In an era of debates over cancel culture and increased accountability for people with horrendous views and behaviors, the question of art vs. artist is a tricky one. When you find out an actor whose work you enjoy is blatantly racist and anti-semitic in real life, does that realization ruin every movie they've been a part of? What about an author who has expressed harmful opinions about a marginalized group? What about a smart, witty comedian who turns out to be a serial sexual assaulter? Where do you draw the line between a creator and their creation?

As someone with his feet in both worlds, actor Wil Wheaton weighed in on that question and offered a refreshingly reasonable perspective.

A reader who goes by @avinlander asked Wheaton on Tumblr:

"Question: I have more of an opinion question for you. When fans of things hear about misconduct happening on sets/behind-the-scenes are they allowed to still enjoy the thing? Or should it be boycotted completely? Example: I've been a major fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer since I was a teenager and it was currently airing. I really nerded out on it and when I lost my Dad at age 16 'The Body' episode had me in such cathartic tears. Now we know about Joss Whedon. I haven't rewatched a single episode since his behavior came to light. As a fan, do I respectfully have to just box that away? Is it disrespectful of the actors that went through it to knowingly keep watching?"

And Wheaton offered this response, which he shared on Facebook:

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When a pet is admitted to a shelter it can be a traumatizing experience. Many are afraid of their new surroundings and are far from comfortable showing off their unique personalities. The problem is that's when many of them have their photos taken to appear in online searches.

Chewy, the pet retailer who has dedicated themselves to supporting shelters and rescues throughout the country, recognized the important work of a couple in Tampa, FL who have been taking professional photos of shelter pets to help get them adopted.

"If it's a photo of a scared animal, most people, subconsciously or even consciously, are going to skip over it," pet photographer Adam Goldberg says. "They can't visualize that dog in their home."

Adam realized the importance of quality shelter photos while working as a social media specialist for the Humane Society of Broward County in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

"The photos were taken top-down so you couldn't see the size of the pet, and the flash would create these red eyes," he recalls. "Sometimes [volunteers] would shoot the photos through the chain-link fences."

That's why Adam and his wife, Mary, have spent much of their free time over the past five years photographing over 1,200 shelter animals to show off their unique personalities to potential adoptive families. The Goldbergs' wonderful work was recently profiled by Chewy in the video above entitled, "A Day in the Life of a Shelter Pet Photographer."