Emilia Clarke's romance film Me Before You riles disability activists

Me Before You, a romantic tale about a life-changing love affair, is arriving on the big screen amid a storm of protest about its portrayal of people with disabilities.

Big-budget tear-jerker based on Jojo Moyes's bestselling 2012 novel

Emilia Clarke, left, and Sam Claflin attend the world premiere of Me Before You in New York on May 23, 2016. (Evan Agostini/ Invision/ The Associated Press)

Me Before You, a romantic tale about a life-changing love affair, is arriving on the big screen amid a storm of protest about its portrayal of people with disabilities.

In recent days, disability rights activists have protested the film in person and online. It hits Canadian theatres this Friday following premiere events last week in New York and London. 

Based on the bestselling novel by Jojo Moyes, the movie stars Game of Thrones' Emilia Clarke as a woman (Lou) who becomes a caregiver to a young quadriplegic (Sam Claflin as Will). The pair fall in love, with Will urging Lou to expand her horizons while he contemplates assisted dying.

The movie's tagline — shared on social media as #LiveBoldly, a reference to Will's advice to Louisa — has been co-opted by protesters who feel the story presents her able-bodied life as having value, while his does not.

Detractors are using the movie's hashtag to question why a disabled person can't be seen to "live boldly."

British writer Moyes, who also wrote the screenplay, defended Me Before You, saying it's about one man and the personal choices he makes for himself, not a comment about people with disabilities in general.

"I think it's true to his character," she told CBC News earlier in May. 

"What was really important to me was that the decisions that he made were true to who he was, which was somebody who was determined to live his life how he wanted to."

Me Before You true to one man's choice, says Jojo Moyes

6 years ago
Duration 0:37
The novelist and screenwriter says her bestselling story is about a life decision made by one character and not a general comment about people with disabilities.

According to Moyes, those who have seen the movie "seem to feel just uplifted, because I think they understand the process of why he makes the decisions that he does. So that's what I hope people take from it."

Me Before You's tagline #LiveBoldly has been co-opted by protesters who feel the story presents the heroine's able-bodied life as having value, while her disabled lover's does not. (Alex Bailey/Warner Bros. Entertainment/Associated Press)

Pickets at premiere

Members of the group Not Dead Yet, who campaigned against a British bill that would have allowed doctor-assisted dying for terminally ill people, picketed the film's London premiere on May 25. 

Activists say movie studios rarely show people with disabilities, and when they do the roles tend to be tragic figures and not people with lives to be celebrated. 

Following the London premiere, Clarke told media that she felt protesters were failing to understand that the film is showing just "one point of view."

Meanwhile, devotees of the book, which has sold more than six million copies since its 2012 release, have eagerly anticipated seeing the emotional story on film. Fans have praised the tale as empowering. 

"When the material comes along that makes you jump for joy and want more than anything in this world to play that part, then I know that's the role that I want to do," Clarke said in an interview with CBC.

Women-led Me Before You set 'so cool,' says Emilia Clarke and Jojo Moyes

6 years ago
Duration 1:57
The star and writer of the new romance movie Me Before You talk strong female roles and the joys of a female-led production.

The British actress, who portrays the strong-willed Daenerys Targaryen on Game of Thrones, said that portraying a female character of substance is key for her.