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SPLIT Offers the Worst in Disability – Cripping Up & Mental Health Stigma

A screenshot of James McAvoy, in Split. He is sitting on the left side of the screen, staring into the camera with a creepy expression on his face. His head is nearly bald, with some shaved black stubble on the back of his head. He wears a yellow and black winter jacket. He is in some old garage or shed or basement, with a doorway in the background and a shelf with stuff on it, like paint cans, is visible in the right foreground.

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 cripping up…again. McAvoy is a serial offender. He physically cripped up in the film Inside I’m Dancing, and now he is attempting to tackle a mental health disability. Cripping up 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!

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8 comments

  1. I’m a psych major and I just want to say that, YES! film, TV, and media often stigmatize mental illness. However, this movie was meant to be a horror movie. The directors were not TRYING to stigmatize multiple personality disorder or incite fear into people so that they would be afraid of mental illness. The point of the movie was that a man kidnapped some girls. The reason is that he is suffering from a mental illness. There are no comments made about SVU, Criminal Minds, or other law shows that COMMONLY use mental illness in criminal cases. It is very true that most people who deal with mental illness in everyday life are absolutely NOT criminals, but in extreme cases, which provide for entertaining media, it portrays normal people with an ailment as “crazy” and “violent”. I have personally dealt with friends who have chose to end their struggle with their mental illness. I have gone through the pain of losing friends and family to suicide caused by the incapability to handle a mental illness. NOT EVERYTHING IS MADE TO OFFED PEOPLE. PLEASE STOP GETTING OFFENDED BY SMALL THINGS AND LET IT BE. IF YOU DONT LIKE IT, how about… DONT GO SEE THE MOVIE. I understand you have a right to state your opinion, however maybe chose something else to write about when there are real people dealing with real problems in the world that actually deal with these issues.

  2. Lindsay, thanks for taking the time to comment to me.

    It doesn’t matter what their intentions are. Real people with DID have experienced harm since the trailer came out. One family member of someone with DID was confronted by other family members about their relative with DID. They saw the trailer for Split, and were concerned it was true of all people with DID and their relative was actually dangerous and harmful to them. Others with DID have told me since the trailer came out, they have been afraid to disclose they have DID, for fear of their safety. So, yes it is fiction. Yes, it is a movie, but it still matters! It still has longterm harmful effects on those living with DID and other mental health disabilities.

    You think it is entertaining because this is not your life. However, for people with disabilities, especially mental health disabilities, these are not fun or entertaining films. They are harmful and prejudicial. You write with a lot of very harmful language when you discuss mental health disabilities. Most people do not like the term mental illness or for others to make assumptions about whether they are suffering or not. Suffering is relative, and it is a term that is thrown around a lot when nondisabled people talk about disability. I suggest you educate yourself on the social model of disability, because actual disabled people are not really into this medical model, which you are, no doubt, being taught at university.

    Media portrayals matter, and these are not small issues. These portrayals, whether we agree this should happen or not, largely influence how disabled folks are treated, whether they have a relatively smooth transition to getting services if needed, whether they have access to employment or housing, and whether they can participate without fear or violence against them in their own community. People choose to discriminate because their only experience with disabilities, like DID, are films like this. I am sure that those who have come to me over the last few months upset about this film, real people living with DID or other mh disabilities, will be thrilled to know you have trivialized how they feel, and do not consider them to be real human beings!

  3. Thank you for standing up for us…. those with DID. When that trailer played in the theater I wanted to crawl under the seat and die… Well, my 15 year old teen alter who carries the pain of sexual abuse at that age along with family violence at the hands of a father who suffered undiagnosed PTSD due to service in WWII in Japan at the bomb site taking pictures… PTSD for which he was never compensated and which gravely impacted all his future children.

    On the other hand, no pun intended, the 14 year old male alter who carries the pain of watching our younger brother get the heck beat out of him when dad went on a rage, the alter who has attempted suicide more than once, the one who hides our pain by acting tough and had 18 inch biceps in college … and we are only 5’2… but he was working out and I had NO IDEA how our arms were getting so big… Well he laughed at the movie and was saying he wanted others to fear him! NOT that he would hurt a fly because he literally had a chance to take action against one of our abusers but he could not do so …. Because he was keeping our own little kid alter safe because he scared her. She is the part that stayed happy and smiled and sang in Sunday School … so no one would be suspicious about the pain the rest of us was hiding because we were told the police would take us away if we said anything about those things.

    So yeah, DID is not being shown in this work of fiction… at all. Or in any movie really I have seen. The brain works within the child to protect the self, In DID it just puts up memory walls to contain things in a safe way. One thing was that I had no idea until long after college what DID was… or why I was having people come up to m addressing me by my middle name… which an alter was using to take classes SHE wanted to take! I even had to go to the admin office my first year asking about a grade… it was an A so I almost wanted to just let it stay! But it was a class I was not taking, The instructor happened to be at the admin building and called me by my middle name. I was shocked and the lady at the desk that I was trying to tell that they got my report wrong gave me that “Are you nuts?” look. It was one very messed up thing and I had to just pretend I forgot the name of the class. UGGGG! Add that to randomly find myself sitting in a McDs and having to ask where I was.. NO… I would say… What STATE???

    Being DID though saved my life, which is what I finally am seeing after thousands spent in therapy and years of working to see into those dark secrets. I was not born this way… it is something society did to a helpl as child. I do not appreciate being made to feel like a monster.

    The real monsters are the SOBs who hurt babies, They are the teachers a six year old girl TOLD and TOLD and TOLD that teen boys were raping her and yet they laughed at her and called her the boy who cried wolf. DID has cost me good jobs. It cost me relationships, sanity, and life. I wake up every day disappointed I did not die in my sleep. So if I do need SSD I will never feel bad for using it as I paid for it more ways than just the money I put in.

    No matter what this movie shows, the real nightmare is having DID. And we are the ones who don’t get to laugh about it the next day with our friends.

  4. Thank you for sharing your story! This movie is a horrible portrayal, and everyone needs to know that! I stand in solidarity with you my friend! For all of you 🙂

  5. I wish I could completely agree, but Kevin isn’t a monster. Even with the “beast” thing. He’said a beautiful, tragic human being who needs love and understanding. It didn’t make me fear people with DID. Ithe made me see they need our understanding and acceptance more. There’s a point in the movie where he asks his psychologist who will care for them if she’s gone. That no one even believes in them. But they’re all real and they’re all beautiful. Every single identity.

  6. Hi Dominick.

    Lindsey’s comment is typical of a systemically brain washed follower in Stanley Milgram’s behavioral study of obedience. She needs you to agree with her. See how she berates you with the use of caps, (yelling) exposing her sense of entitlement and authority of how you should not spend your time. So vile and ugly.

    Lindsey will get rich off pushing the fraudulent pseudo-science of the DSM, outright lying to people about the safety of neurotoxic psych drugs known for 40 years to cause brain damage, conning them into ECT and forcing them to submit to other tools of oppression and abuse because she “said so.” LOL

    If your goal is to help people labeled as “mentally ill” Dominick, I hope you care enough about the plight of people in trauma to consider the harm that the medical model of human distress, that pathologizes and medicalizes every aspect of human life for profit, causes vulnerable groups of people.

    Evidence that “mental illness” and “chemical imbalances as brain diseases” is a myth, abounds. Owing to the lack of evidence supporting the social construct of “mental illness”, diagnosing someone as “mentally ill” is both insurance fraud and medical malpractice. The money wasted on seeking “genetic” causes would be better spent on the Social Determinants of Health and trauma informed care. Decades and billions have already been wasted. Psychiatry is an industry of death and abuse whose time needs to end in order for humane, caring approaches to human suffering to expand.
    There are safe, effective alternatives for people in crisis that does not carry the stigma, that the use of pathologizing socially constructed term “mental illness” creates.

    The “mental health” industry insists on using stigmatizing, discriminatory, defamation of character “mental illness” labels, that rob people of their legal rights, personal credibility, puts them at high risk of “care giver abuse’, chronic poverty, homelessness, joblessness, social death, early death, suicide, homicide, disease and addiction as a result of the ineffective and dangerous “treatments” they are subjected to. Psychiatry could agree to drop the pathologizing labels that cause harm but doing so would interfere with their ability to use force against the public.

    Thousands of professionals and psychiatric survivors are working to ensure that people in distress enjoy access to legal informed consent, bodily integrity, the right to choose, the right to refuse ‘treatment’ and freedom from forced “treatment” (which is by no means ‘care” and does not exist in any other aspect of “medicine”) as per the law. Please consider this.

    Here are a few resources I hope you will take the time to review:

    The 1998 Pulitzer Prize Finalist and author of Mad in America discussed the rise in diagnosis of mental illness in the U.S. and the proliferation of drugs to medicate various conditions.
    https://www.c-span.org/video/?293935-1/anatomy-epidemic

    The mental health first aid programme is a pet project – if the NHS services were properly funded in the first place, it wouldn’t be needed
    http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/mental-health-first-aid-theresa-may-depression-anxiety-nhs-underfunded-services-turned-away-a7842571.html

    Eugenics Psychiatry – DVD
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H4vL2CBdDr4

    The socioeconomic history of psychoactive drug use http://thepsychologist.bps.org.uk/volume-29/april/opium-and-people … @joannamoncrieff

    World needs “revolution” in mental health care – UN rights expert
    http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=21689

    Sterilizing the mentally ill: Is not a side effect
    http://pssdblog.blogspot.ca/p/pssd-blog.html

  7. Thank you for your comment, Judy. As someone with my own psychosocial disabilities, I stringently am against the medical model! I agree with your comment, and thank you so very much for the links and everything you wrote!

  8. Will try to find you on FB Dominick.

    In solidarity

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