Apparently, we just love watching beautiful teenagers fall in love before dying a very young, untimely death.

The latest film in the genre is Five Feet Apart with Cole Sprouse, which follows two young people suffering from Cystic Fibrosis (CF). The two quickly fall for each other during their frequent hospital visits (nothing says “romance” like the harsh lights of the hospital). The only problem? Two people with CF can’t get within six feet of each other because they might catch each other’s infections, which could be deadly.

For those unfamiliar with the disease, CF is a genetic illness that makes it difficult for those afflicted to clear out mucus from their lungs (note: we all have mucus in many organs, including the lungs). This leads to infections in the lungs and difficulty breathing over time. The average lifespan for someone with CF in the U.S. is currently 37.5 years old.

five feet apart review
Haley Lu Richardson and Cole Sprouse / Five Feet Apart

CF is an incredibly serious disease and deserves to have some light shed on it. But this is not the way to do it.

By reducing CF to this “six feet apart” rule, they’ve completely minimized a complex disease. Even worse is that they’ve cheapened the experience of everyone afflicted with the illness. Instead of giving accurate representation to those afflicted (who are so often overlooked), Five Feet Apart uses them for entertainment.

And that brings us to the worst offense of all: the way these popular “teen dying love stories” use sick and disabled individuals merely to “inspire us.” This phenomenon is so common that there’s actually a name for it — inspiration porn.

Coined by activist Stella Young in her Ted Talk, she explains that inspiration porn is when you “objectifying disabled people for the benefit of nondisabled people. The purpose… is to inspire you, to motivate you, so that we can look at them and think, Well, however bad my life is, it could be worse. I could be that person.

the fault in our stars criticism
Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort / The Fault in Our Stars

Aptly, the film has proven quite divisive within the CF community. CF activist Elsie Tellier took to her blog to write,

Five Feet Apart seeks to diminish our lives, our stories, and our humanity just to create a “tragic” plot for able-bodied people to cry over and I refuse to accept their hypocrisy.”

She later adds,

“The creators of this film do not care about people with Cystic Fibrosis. They do not care about the Cystic Fibrosis community and our struggles. They have not listened to our voices and they will continue to ignore us. This film is not about uplifting us, it’s about making money from the healthy people who will walk out of the theater being so thankful that their lives aren’t as pitiful as ours.”

Of course, Five Feet Apart is not the first of this genre. Think: The Fault in Our Stars (Shailene Woodley) Everything Everything (Amandla Stenberg), Now is Good (Dakota Fanning), and, of course, A Walk to Remember (Mandy Moore).

disability porn
Mandy Moore and Shane West / A Walk to Remember

The ones with cancer are the ones that particularly get to me (although all the films are pretty much the same regardless of the disease). My father died of cancer and my mother recently had her own bout of cancer and let me tell you, there is *nothing* romantic about the frequent visits to the hospital, the treatment side effects, and the emotional rollercoaster that comes with it.

Using disease as a mere plot point is insulting to everyone who’s experienced these illnesses and their families. Because, as Elsie Tellier wrote, the films don’t actually care about giving a voice to those with the disease, they just care about the box office numbers.

I know that Hollywood has no intentions to stop making these films. But I hope next time you go to the movie theater, you’ll second guess what you watch and what you support.

In the meantime, I hope you’ll read Elsie’s full piece as well as other opinions from folks within the CF community. I myself do not suffer from CF and thus cannot give voice to an entire community of folks who do. I can only speak to my own relationship with terminal illness.

To learn more about Cystic Fibrosis, head to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation‘s website.

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Categories: Featured Movies