As a lot of you may know, there’s a horror film being released on January 20th called “Split” directed by M. Night Shyamalan. His name is big in the industry, having done major films like “The Sixth Sense” and “Signs”. I’m a big fan of those myself — but when I watched the trailer for his latest, there was a deeply upsetting feeling that I couldn’t quite shake.
Actor James McAvoy plays Kevin, a man suffering from DID (dissociative identity disorder) with 23 different personalities. One of these personalities has abducted three young girls and locked them in a prison below ground. It’s an incredibly ableist film, and thankfully, there have been quite a few people speaking out against it, with a petition on Care2, calling for a boycott having nearly 20,000 supporters. Unfortunately, it appears that many have been dismissive towards the protests and derailing any conversation with “it’s just a film” type comments. But here’s the thing: the movie relies on the demonization of mental illness for the entire plot, and we cannot ignore how very harmful that is.
Hollywood has a long record when it comes to using mental illness to make characters seem dangerous. Psycho, Halloween, and Friday the 13th are only a few that come to mind, and I have yet to see any positive representation of someone with a personality disorder. We’re often demonized; our disorder exploited for entertainment purposes. We’re portrayed in a way that’s often horribly inaccurate, offensive and full of stereotypes — and this film is just one of many. People with personality disorders aren’t inherently abusive, and studies have shown that not only are individuals with mental illnesses less likely to commit crimes, they’re far more likely to be victims. Though in mainstream media, we’re still depicted as dangerous and unreliable, among other things. It’s very harmful and only contributes to the very real stigma surrounding mental illnesses, especially personality disorders.
“Split” isn’t simply a horror film and the portrayal of the main character cannot be ignored. It’s not justa horror film. Not when this is how we’re depicted ineverything, not when it places a horribly inaccurate and demonizing portrayal of a mentally ill person at its forefront. This is something that has very real consequences. Real people are denied care, agency and even abused or killed because of the stigma that this film is helping to perpetuate.
I’m appalled that in the year 2017, films like this is still being created and released. I love horror films just as much as the next person, but this is no small thing, and it certainly isn’t okay. Please do not support this movie. Instead, listen to those of us that are speaking out against it. These awful, ableist depictions of mentally ill people only help to diminish what little visibility we have and do not help us, they only make us bigger targets.
Written by: Lauryn Spencer
Edited by: AJ Wallace
Keshav Kant, aka Mx. KantEven, is a med student tuned Executive Director of Off Colour!
You’ve probably seen her on Twitter and TikTok, both @MxKantEven, or caught her work on Off Colour's many channels.
From consulting on films & shows, manuscript review, conducting interviews, or hosting podcasts & panels, if there is some way to bring sensitivity and authenticity to diversity, inclusion and equity conversations, Keshav will be there.