Mental Health Advocates Speak Out Against M. Night Shyamalan's 'Split'

By David Konow 02/07/17

Advocates believe the movie perpetuates negative stereotypes of people with dissociative identity disorder. 

A still from the movie "Split"

In 1999, writer/director M. Night Shyamalan had a huge hit with The Sixth Sense, but his career has had a lot of ups and downs since then. The filmmaker had another big success with Signs (2002), but he also had a number of underperforming films like Lady in the Water (2006).

Now Shyamalan is back on top with Split, a horror thriller about a violent man with dissociative identity disorder. Split has been the number one movie in the country for three weeks in a row, but it has also created controversy with mental health advocates who feel it puts a bad public face on dissociative identity disorder, previously known as multiple personality disorder.

Dr. Michelle Stevens—author of Scared Selfless: My Journey from Abuse and Madness to Surviving and Thriving and founder of the non-profit organization Post-Traumatic Success—is one of those people. Stevens, who has dissociative identity disorder, decried Split in an open letter to Shyamalan in The Hollywood Reporter.

“As much as I’m rooting for you as an artist, I’m angered that you chose to climb to success on the overburdened backs of the mentally ill,” she wrote. “For the record, dissociative identity disorder is a real mental illness that affects millions of real people, including me.”

Stevens adds that contrary to what you see in the movies, people with dissociative identity disorder “are not, generally speaking, creepy or deceptive; we don’t lurk in dark alleys … we are husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, friends and neighbors who silently suffer from a painful, scary, often debilitating condition in which our sense of who we are feels divided into fragmented parts.”

Stevens likened Split to a schoolyard bully making fun of a disabled person, and in its review of the film, The Hollywood Reporter said, “Mental health advocates won’t be giving any awards to a film that plays up fears surrounding those with dissociative identity disorder ... But genre fans should embrace what is arguably the director’s most satisfying picture since The Sixth Sense.”

Along with Stevens's criticism of the film, Movieweb reports that there is also a Care2 petition calling for a boycott of Split—not just for its portrayal of mental illness, but also for its "backwards representation of gender identity."

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In addition to contributing for The Fix, David Konow has also written for Esquire, Deadline, LA Weekly, Village Voice, The Wrap, and many other publications and websites. He is also the author of the three decade history of heavy metal, Bang Your Head (Three Rivers Press), and the horror film history Reel Terror (St Martins Press). Find David on LinkedIn and Facebook.