I have watched many films that feature disability and disabled characters in some form or another, and what I have learned is that if the trailer is ableist, there is a HUGE chance the entire film is embedded with ableism, as well. Ableism hurts the disability community. One of the worst offenders of ableism is mental health stigma. It is hard to find very many films that explore mental health in ways that do not actually harm those living with mental health disabilities. We know portrayals impact communities represented in film and television, so you would think that creators would be more responsible in developing characters with disabilities. They aren’t.
SPLIT is the latest film that looks to stigmatize mental health. The trailer reveals a dark story clearly embedded in harmful horror tropes about disability. The disabled protagonist, as played by James McAvoy, is dangerous, unstable, and harmful to others. The only clear culprit for such behavior is his disability, which is supposed to be dissociative identity disorder (DID). We never see people with dissociative identity disorder in any type of positive setting, when it comes to Hollywood. It is no surprise that M. Night Shyamalan decided to make McAvoy’s Kevin a murdering, kidnapping nightmare given this fact. That is how society seems to feel about mental health, in general, and little is understood about those with DID especially.
The real tragedy is that people living with DID will bear the brunt of fear, shame, and hatred hurled their way as a result of these kinds of films. There has long been a trope where disabled people, regardless of their disability, were cast as villains. This was done for a variety of reasons. First, filmmakers have seemingly embraced the unfounded notion disability is not relatable. Second, the idea behind this was to dehumanize or sub-humanize disabled people, because then nondisabled people could feel better about themselves. You know, at least you’re not disabled! Additionally, these audience members could then cheer on the murder of the disabled character, in the end. They were bad people, so of course they should die, right?
While I generally agree with watching a movie before making an opinion, when we see trailers that are so detrimental to disability and disabled people, we have to speak out. People are going to see a film that’s trailer is offensive to mental health and they have no idea or comprehension it is harmful. We can only imagine what the entire film is like. To make matters worse, McAvoy himself is not disabled. He is engaging in disabled mimicry…again. McAvoy is a serial offender. He physically engaged in disabled mimicry in the film Inside I’m Dancing, and now he is attempting to tackle a mental health disability. Disabled Disabled Mimicry, or when nondisabled people play disabled roles, is never okay.
Hollywood needs to stop casting nondisabled actors. It is never right. This has to stop, and the disability community needs to demand it. We KNOW portrayals affect the disability community. We KNOW this to be a fact. Portrayals in all forms of media affect how we are treated in nearly every single setting in our lives. They affect whether we get proper services. They affect whether we get treated like human beings. Portrayals matter, and bad portrayals are hard to rectify. The long term effects take years to recover from, but we’re trying to change this. We can’t do it if the disability community is not at all united on this.
Split follows Kevin (McAvoy), a man who has 23 different personalities. Kevin ends up kidnapping three girls who get in the wrong car after a party. After keeping the girls locked up as his prisoners, a 24th personality starts to emerge, called “The Beast” who is someone the young women should find terrifying. Even the plot is demonizing to mental health. Like most mental health disabilities, those with DID are usually victims of some horrible trauma. They are not usually the ones committing the trauma. Yet, Hollywood tells the tale of the abusive, murderous “mentally deranged murderer/rapist/psychopath” again and again. Not only does this cause people to fear those with mental health disabilities, but it also can help to create internalized turmoil within the individual, against themselves. Internalizing ableism is very real, and what Hollywood does to the disability community by further stigmatizing mental health, does little to actually prevent that.
You can see the trailer for yourself, and make your own decision. However, please know that this idea, that mental health disabilities and multiple personalities are terrifying, is not new. It is sad and tired, and the disability community is sick of the same tired narratives being used against us. As such, on January 20, I urge you all to protest, in some form. Before the film is released, I urge all my fellow writers – crips and allies to write their own blog posts condemning the ableism in the trailer and the cripping up of James McAvoy. There will be multiple ways to protest:
1. physically protest at your local cinema… we know this won’t be possible in certain areas depending on the weather, however if you live in a warm place or you want to brave the weather, reach out to me on Twitter (@dominickevans) or FB (Dominick M. Evans), and join our official effort to schedule protests across the world in the UK, Canada, and the US. The film is debuting in all three places then, so we need to combine our efforts!
2. Join us on January 14 @ 7 PM when #FilmDis teams up with the Disability Visbility Project (DVP) for a discussion on Split, mental health, and Hollywood. This is our first discussion back, and it is at a special time.
3. Join us on January 20 when we #ForgetSplit. Use the hashtag to share your thoughts on why you will refuse to “Get Split” by not going to see a film that harms disabled people through cripping up.
4. Blog your own thoughts about Split and the harmful messages its trailer sends about mental health disabilities. Share it with me on Twitter (@dominickevans), and I will share it with my networks!