Journal Title: Wide Screen
Vol. 9, No.1, July 2022
Abstract: How is knowledge of the body produced and mediated? Anne Waldschmidt argues that conceptions of dis/ability relate to already prevailing symbolic structures and institutional practices (25). The ‘cultural turn’ in disability studies sheds some light on this problem, focusing on meanings attributed to human bodies, their interpellation, and the material consequences of the same. This paper aims to situate itself within these contact zones of cultural studies and disability studies by way of examining the representation of disabled women and their sexuality in cinema, with specific reference to Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water (2017) and its generic intertexts and antecedents. While physical disabilities appear onscreen in a number of ways, disabled women are depicted as active sexual agents only in the ‘body’ genres of horror and fantasy. Reading The Shape of Water in comparison with other horror, fantasy, and science fictional texts thus examines what it is that the genre allows. If they constitute an other to mainstream genres, can they be mined for empowering representations of disabled women’s sexuality? If systems of representation function through an economy of desire, it is possible to trace where desire is placed onscreen. Finally, this paper will aim to examine the methodology to read a text via the ‘cultural model’ in disability studies, which sees disability as both structuring and structured by culture. Addressing the intersectional nature of disability, race, ethnicity, and
gender through The Shape of Water, it shall test the possibility of an epistemological shift: the creation of a new ‘language’ to address desire and disability.