Disability advocates protest movie Thursday

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Disability rights advocates gathered outside Shattuck Cinemas on Thursday night to protest the screening of the newly released film “Me Before You.”

The protest was organized by Berkeley residents Ken Stein and Ingrid Tischer in association with Not Dead Yet — a national grassroots disability rights group. The protesters alleged that the film, which features a paraplegic who ultimately decides to commit assisted suicide, implies disabled people are “better off dead than living,” according to Tischer.

“They used disability as a prop for pity and inspiration, and these portrayals are anything but harmless catharsis,” Stein said. “They hurt the entire disability community by advancing these myths and fears and stereotypes about people with disabilities.”

Tischer and other protesters also took issue with the film because of its portrayal of disability that does not indicate the diversity within the actual community. Senior citizens, people with disabilities, members of the LGBTQ community and people of color were present at the protest, according to Tischer.

“People who are marginalized because they are people of color, women, poor, etc. are way more at risk for a lack of protection if they become disabled,” Tischer said. “It works in an intersectional way.”

Likewise, according to Tischer, the film could be very damaging to people who are newly disabled from tragic accidents.

“We don’t want people in that vulnerable stage to get that message reinforced like, ‘Oh for you suicide is a natural option,’” Tischer said.

The protesters brandished signs that read, “Live Boldly?! We already do!” a criticism of the movie’s promotional catchphrase “Live Boldly.”

“It’s quite unintentionally ironic,” Tischer said of the catchphrase. “It’s saying that for (disabled people) the best way to live boldly is to die quickly.”

UC Berkeley English professor Georgina Kleege, who is blind, said that Hollywood has generally not portrayed disability in an accurate or respectful way.

“When I was a student, which was before the Americans with Disabilities Act, living with a disability was harder because we didn’t have civil rights, essentially,” Kleege said. “It’s frustrating now in 2016 seeing this same message being perpetuated in Hollywood.”

Kleege said many movies about disabilities, such as “Me Before You,” have able-bodied actors playing disabled characters even though there are disabled actors willing to play these roles. She added that this issue is not limited to disability and applies to people of color, women and many other groups who feel that they are portrayed in a reductive way by Hollywood.

“I don’t know how you fix popular culture or how you replace stereotypical images with more realistic ones,” Kleege said. “I think that there is a lot in these cultures that people should find out about.”

Contact Brenna Smith at [email protected].