The Weekly Read for March 4, 2023 is Crip Genealogies edited by Mel Y. Chen, Alison Kafer, Eunjung Kim, and Julie Avril Minich. The contributors to Crip Genealogies reorient the field of disability studies by centering the work of transnational feminism, queer of color critique, and trans scholarship and activism, showing how a white and Western-centric narrative of disability studies enables ableism and racism.
Crip Genealogies is part of the series ANIMA: Critical Race Studies Otherwise, edited by Mel Y. Chen, Ezekiel J. Dixon-Román, and Jasbir K. Puar. Books in this series bring together queer theory, postcolonial studies, critical race scholarship, and disability theory to foreground the oft-occluded import of race and sex in the fields of posthumanist theory, new materialisms, vitalism, media theory, animal studies, and object-oriented ontologies. ANIMA emphasizes how life, vitality, and animatedness reside beyond what is conventionally and humanistically known.
Prefer the print version? Buy the book and use coupon code E23CRIPG at checkout for a 30% discount!
The Weekly Read is a weekly feature in which we highlight articles, books, and chapters that are freely available online. You’ll be able to find a link to the selection here on the blog as well as on our social media channels. Enjoy The Weekly Read, and check back next week for something new to read for free.
Our Cyber Monday sale continues today and tomorrow. Are you looking for some books that would make great gifts? Here are some suggestions. Use coupon CYBER22 to save 50% on these and all in-stock and pre-order titles.
Looking for gifts for sports fans? We have two new books about basketball. Capturing the magnificence and mastery of today’s most accomplished NBA players while paying homage to the devotion of the countless congregants in the global church of pickup basketball, in Lost in the Game Thomas Beller charts the game’s inexorable gravitational hold on those who love it. And in Big Game, Small World, Alexander Wolff travels the globe in search of what basketball can tell us about the world, and what the world can tell us about the game.
How about a memoir? Give your gay uncle Memories of a Gay Catholic Boyhood by John D’Emilio, in which the historian takes readers from his working-class Bronx neighborhood and Columbia University to New York’s hidden gay male subculture and the political and social upheavals of the late 1960s. Perhaps you also have a tía or two; they might enjoy Magical Habits by Monica Huerta, in which she draws on her experiences growing up in her family’s Mexican restaurants and her life as an academic to sketch out habits of living that allow us to consider what it means to live with history as we are caught up in it and how those histories bear on our capacities to make sense of our lives. Have a friend who is a graphic novel fan? Give them The Inheritance, a graphic memoir by theorist and filmmaker Elizabeth A. Povinelli, which explores the events, traumas, and powers that divide and define our individual and collective pasts and futures. Another recent memoir is Atlantis, an Autoanthropology, a literary memoir and autoethnography by poet Nathaniel Tarn which captures this multiplicity and reaches for the uncertainties of a life lived in a dizzying array of times, cultures, and environments.
For poetry fans, we have many excellent gift ideas. Nomenclature collects eight volumes of Dionne Brand’s poetry published between 1983 and 2010, as well as a new long poem, the titular Nomenclature for the time being. In or, on being the other woman, Simone White considers the dynamics of contemporary black feminist life through a book-length poem. When the Smoke Cleared contains poetry written by incarcerated poets in Attica Prison and journal entries and poetry by Celes Tisdale, who led poetry workshops following the uprising there in 1971. In Maroon Choreography fahima ife speculates on the long (im)material, ecological, and aesthetic afterlives of black fugitivity. In three long-form poems and a lyrical essay, they examine black fugitivity as an ongoing phenomenon we know little about beyond what history tells us. And in Good night the pleasure was ours musician and poet David Grubbs melts down and recasts three decades of playing music on tour into a book-length poem, bringing to a close the trilogy that includes Now that the audience is assembled and The Voice in the Headphones. Get the whole set!
Got a musician or music fan in your life? Here are some recent gift-worthy music titles. Jazz fans will enjoy Ain’t But a Few of Us, a collection of essays by and interviews with Black Jazz writers, edited by Willard Jenkins. Or give Cisco Bradley’s Universal Tonality, a highly-praised biography of jazz bassist William Parker. Perhaps their taste runs to New Wave music instead? Check out No Machos or Pop Stars by Gavin Butt, which tells the fascinating story of the post-punk scene in Leeds, and A Kiss across the Ocean by Richard T. Rodríguez, which examines the relationship between British post-punk musicians and their Latinx audiences in the United States since the 1980s. Rap and hip hop fans will appreciate Breaks in the Air, in which John Klaess tells the story of rap’s emergence on New York City’s airwaves by examining how artists and broadcasters adapted hip hop’s performance culture to radio.
For the activists in your life, we suggest Black Disability Politics by Sami Schalk, which demonstrates that the work of Black disability politics not only exists but is essential to the future of Black liberation movements. And for those interested in advocating for veterans, we suggest Our Veterans by Suzanne Gordon, Steve Early, and Jasper Craven,
And finally, since we’re Duke University Press, after all, we bet you have some theory fans on your gift list. Make sure they have a copy of Lauren Berlant’s On the Inconvenience of Other People, which Judith Butler calls “magisterial” and “brilliant.”
Books ordered this week will arrive in time for Hanukkah and Christmas if shipped to a US address. We cannot guarantee holiday arrival for international shipments. See all the fine print here. Pre-order titles will not arrive in time for the holidays.
We’re pleased that our distributors Combined Academic Publishers and University of Toronto Press are also participating in the sale. Customers outside North and South America should order from CAP using the same CYBER22 coupon code for faster and cheaper shipping. Customers in Canada should head to the UTP site where the prices will reflect the 50% discount, no coupon needed.
Shop now because the sale ends tomorrow, November 30, at 11:59 pm Eastern time.
Happy Disability Pride Month! As we celebrate the 1990 passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, we’re proud to share some of our recent and forthcoming titles that focus on disability studies and histories.
Black Disability Politicsby Sami Schalk explores how issues of disability have been and continue to be central to Black activism from the 1970s to the present by drawing on rich archives from the Black Panther Party and the National Black Women’s Health Project. It’s available for pre-order now.
In How to Go Mad Without Losing Your Mind, La Marr Jurelle Bruce ponders the presence of “madness” in black literature, music, and performance since the early twentieth century, showing how artists ranging from Kendrick Lamar to Nina Simone activate madness as content, form, aesthetic, strategy, philosophy, and energy in an enduring black radical tradition.
Todd Carmody’s Work Requirements outlines how disability itself became a tool of social discipline by exploring how the idea that work is inherently meaningful was reinforced and tasked to those who lived on the margins and needed assistance during nineteenth-century America.
Observing that trans studies was founded on a split from and disavowal of madness, illness, and disability, Cameron Awkward-Rich’s The Terrible Weargues for and models a trans criticism that works against this disavowal. It can be pre-ordered now.
Long Term weaves LGBTQ and disability studies by using the tension between popular embrace and legalization of same-sex marriage and the queer critique of homonormativity as an opportunity to examine the myriad forms of queer commitment and their durational aspect. The essay collection is written by numerous contributors, edited by Scott Herring and Lee Wallace and includes a preface by E. Patrick Johnson.
Sarah Imhoff’s The Lives of Jessie Sampter tells the story of the queer, disabled, Zionist writer Jessie Sampter (1883-1938), whose body and life did not match typical Zionist ideals—thus serving as an example of the complex relationships between the body, queerness, disability, religion, and nationalism.
Jonathan Sterneoffers a sweeping cultural study and theorization of impairment, in which experience is understood from the standpoint of a subject that is not fully able to account for itself in Diminished Faculties.
In On Living with Television, Amy Holdsworth blends media and disability studies by recounting her life with television to trace how the medium shapes everyday activities, our relationships with others, and our sense of time.
In “Disability Dramaturgies,” a special issue of Theater (52:2), disabled practitioners and scholars explore how strategies of care—long cultivated and practiced by disabled artists and the creative communities around them—might speak to the present moment. This special issue is edited by Madeline Charne and Tom Sellar and will be freely available in full for three months.
Jonathan Sterne is James McGill Professor of Art History and Communication Studies at McGill University. In his new book, Diminished Faculties, Sterne draws on his personal history with thyroid cancer and a paralyzed vocal cord in order to generate a sweeping cultural study and theorization of impairment, in which experience is understood from the standpoint of a subject that is not fully able to account for itself.
You begin the book with a personal account of your own surgical trauma and difficulty with a speaking impairment. How has that experience contributed to your intellectual development and to this book specifically? And speaking of experience, you discuss the need to reassess phenomenology, which has historically been grounded in white, male experiences.
Writing the parts of the book that deal with my own experience is certainly the most difficult academic writing I’ve ever done. When I acquired a paralyzed vocal cord, a lot of people told me “oh, that’s so interesting—you write on sound, now you have a crip voice, you should write about that.” I also blogged my experience at the time I was going through it, so I had a lot of raw material, which also led to the “you should write about it” response. At first, I resisted it, but after some time and reflection, and the encouragement of several people, including Courtney Berger, I realized I needed to resettle my accounts with phenomenology. While what you say about phenomenology is absolutely true, there has been a growing alternative movement of racialized, queer, feminist, and crip phenomenologies I wanted to join.
But I can’t just join. Sure, I’m disabled. I am also white and male and have benefitted from that status, and very specifically in my academic life. Those canonical phenomenologies are supposed to speak to me and my experience. So I needed a way to interrogate my own experience, to be honest about the mixture of profound privilege and debilitation (both physical and social) that conditions my experience of the world. I’ve sought out colleagues and mentors who don’t necessarily look or sound like me, which has helped a lot.
Do you see impairment phenomenology as contributing to a broader political project during our current moment affected by racist police brutality, COVID-19, and climate change?
I like Stuart Hall’s admonition to be modest in our political claims for intellectual endeavors. I hope the book gives people some inspiration and courage to think differently about human limits (their own, other people’s), maybe some authorization to do what they do or be who they are, and perhaps about how they do their work. My prior experience as a writer is that books can inspire readers in unexpected ways, and that’s my biggest hope for Diminished Faculties.
Throughout the book, you make use of many forms of visual representation that differ from plain text, including the static-y pages at the opening, musical notation, artistic representations and photos. What drew you to these images and how do they contribute to your work?
Most of the credit for visual interest goes to others. Originally I wanted to work with a single artist who would illustrate the whole book, but that idea just didn’t work out. Matt Tauch at the Press translated my vague ideas about spacing in the beginning and “looking like a user manual” into really coherent designs. I commissioned drawings from Lochlann Jain because I love their work and one day Carrie (my partner) and I were trying to work out what 7.5cm really meant. I’m also a fan of Darsha Hewitt, and for the user’s guide, I wanted to pay homage to other great user guides, like the manuals for Madrona Labs’ instruments (which are themselves homages to the manual for the Buchla Music Easel). Zoë de Luca told me I should take the exhibition metaphor more literally for that chapter, and that resulted in looking at actual exhibition maps and then laying out my own. The artworks didn’t need me to be interesting! I just had to point to them, and the artists were generous enough to let me reproduce them.
You investigate nonhuman objects throughout your book, including a popcorn machine and a set of “speaking chairs.” How are nonhuman perspectives important to your thinking?
I think technology is profoundly human and humans are profoundly technological. The two works you mention materialize a struggle I have throughout the front end of the book: it is at once extremely ideological and coercive to equate a subject with its voice, to locate the voice as the locus of its agency. But I also live in a world that shaped by those processes and despite my best theoretical equivocations, I can’t help wanting them. Nina Katchadourian’s Talking Popcorn is striking because she follows through so completely, with a long list of experts weighing in on the meaning of the apparatus’ synthesized speech. Graham Pullin’s Speaking Chairs project is an answer to the coercive dimension of augmentative/alternative voice technology that prioritizes the semantic dimensions of speech over the affective. Other objects do other kinds of work. As for other nonhumans, cats make another appearance (including a callback to MP3), and that’s because I am very interested in cats. I originally wanted the book to end with my cat throwing up on me, but that didn’t work with the whole user’s guide conclusion.
You write about some of the challenges of writing impairment phenomenology, including needing to utilize a different set of pronouns than are traditionally used in academic writing. How did those challenges change your experience writing this book for an academic audience? How did you adapt to and overcome them?
The banned pronoun is “we.” It’s an exercise in specificity as much as anything else—when I am doing phenomenology, who am I talking about? Anglophone writers in the humanities use “we” a lot; it solves a lot of problems that they’d otherwise have to deal with when writing about meaning or experience. I’m hardly the first person to note this, but while the “humanities we” can be intended as welcoming or invitational, it has really homogenizing effects. This is especially the case for writing an impairment phenomenology: not only do “we” not hear, see, or feel the same thing, I may not have experienced what I thought I experienced when I recount it later in writing. So I tried to avoid the “humanities we” altogether, and I only used “we” when directly addressing a community of scholars to which I belong, or when I’m narrating something, as in “we went to a party” (oh how I miss going to parties). Towards the end of the book-writing process, I actually did a search of the manuscript, and caught a few places where I slipped up!
Your previous books have been about sound and technology. Diminished Faculties relates to those topics, but also draws significantly from work in disability studies. What brought you to disability studies, and how did you find that transition between disciplines?
I’ve always been interested in disability: for instance, The Audible Past is shaped in part by Deaf historiography and critiques of audism. Some of Diminished Facultiescomes out of that thread. I started doing an annual Disability Studies course in 2011. With the help of generations of students, that has really shaped my thinking in profound ways. We could talk about the field’s connection to activism and all the work I and many others have been doing there during the COVID pandemic. But also: disability is constitutive condition of humanity. It is everywhere, yet academics are generally trained to ignore it even when it is right there in the room with them. Disability studies is about getting disabled people into the room—metaphorically but also for real.
There’s another dimension that’s important to me. A lot of disability studies work is in an affirmative mode right now: centering disabled experience, especially those experiences that may not have “counted” as disabled before; it is about showing that disabled people are agents of history. That work is vital and students and activists need to read it. But disability studies also has a profound critique of mastery that is a useful reminder, especially for academics where there is such pressure to perform mastery and control. Again, I’m not the first here: Margaret Price, Remy Yergeau, and Jay Dolmage have had a lot to say on this subject. But I want to push it even further to say that normate thought isn’t as normal or under control as it says it is. Even the most experienced musician will admit that they are not in full control of their instrument—it pushes back; their body does not cooperate; they must adjust. What if we, as scholars, could admit that we are not masters of our own experience, or anyone else’s for that matter? What could that do for hermeneutics, for historiography, for ethnography?
What makes “Crip Temporalities” unique or essential? What does it do that no other collection has done before?
Not only is this the first edited volume to focus on crip time and temporalities, it is also groundbreaking in other important ways. We deliberately foregrounded authors and artists of color to counteract the oft-critiqued whiteness of disability studies in the United States. We also included both foundational disability studies figures and those who are relatively new to the field, so the issue could provoke discussions of crip time across fields, generations, and geographies.
Including visual art and poetry was also important to us, as crip time has been realized perhaps most profoundly in recent years through creative works by sick and disabled artists and writers. Their work, as well as the essays themselves, expose the ragged underside of crip time that its smooth intellectual surface can never fully conceal. We believe no one can read this issue and come away unchanged.
How does the scholarship collected in this issue hold particular relevance during the COVID-19 pandemic?
The essays, poetry, and art in this issue remind us that many people have been living in “pandemic time” before COVID, and many more will thereafter as “long-haul COVID” emerges. Pandemic time blurs the ordinary ways we segment our days and nights, forces us to confront a possibly shortened lifespan, makes us miss “milestone” events, and involves waiting, multitasking, and fumbling deadlines—all experiences that are routine for people with disabilities. This issue uses an intersectional approach to explore how that kind of temporality feels to crips, in and beyond the pandemic, and the variety of power relations that shape both normative time and temporal aberration. During COVID, this issue also shows, we have witnessed institutions making accommodations that they routinely withheld from, or imperfectly and grudgingly bestowed on, people with disabilities: remote work, flex time, deadline extensions, etc. We hope that the issue will resonate with audiences in and beyond disability studies, for whom the past year has created possibilities for alliances between crips and non-crips.
How do you imagine “Crip Temporalities” could be used in courses, or as a basis for future scholarship?
The essays, art, and poetry in this special issue form a cohesive whole that is well-suited to be taught in full. Students can find different entry points to the material in the different genres, as well as the essays, which range from personal to analytical, exploring crip temporality in contexts as varied as a qualitative study of disabled faculty in the US, violence in occupied Palestine, Black feminist digital humanities, Latina/o/x testimonio, and queer- and crip-of-color self-care. Were I teaching this in a disability studies or gender and women’s studies class, I would ask each student to pick one piece from the issue—essay, poem, art—and talk or write about how it relates to their lives or the world around them. I am confident that every reader will find something profound in this issue, starting with Eli Clare’s magnificent and searing poem, composed in the early days of the pandemic.
As disability studies scholarship moves beyond a rights-based model to aspire to disability justice, this collection offers a keystone for that evolution. Disability justice centers the experiences and voices of Black, Indigenous, Latino/a/x, and Asian American disabled people, as well as those who are queer, trans, and/or economically precarious. In accordance with this principle, we sought with “Crip Temporalities” to amplify others’ perspectives and expand the scope of what is published as “disability studies” or “queer studies” or “temporality studies.”
This volume, conceived almost two years ago, appears at a time when the violent devaluing of Black lives in this country—from the malignant neglect of COVID-19 management to the repeated police murders of Black people—constitutes a second pandemic, whose roots run as deep as the nation itself. This volume brings new and important perspectives to a vital ongoing conversation about how disabled bodies get racialized, and how the health, mobility, and bodily functions of racialized populations are compromised.
Similarly, “Crip Temporalities” is part of a turn in queer studies from spectacularly and knowingly transgressive bodies toward bodies and people who are just getting by, surviving, doing the unglamorous work of self- and mutual care. Finally, we see the volume as part of the move to revive the genres and modes that count as conceptual critical writing—not only visual art and poetry but also personal narrative, testimonial, manifesto, and beyond—exemplified in the new Duke University Press series Writing Matters!
This special issue examines the stakes of orienting toward or away from disability as a category and as a method. Building on Sara Ahmed’s conceptualization of “orientation” as the situating of queer and raced bodies, the contributors ask how the category of disability might also change how we think of bodies orienting in space and time. Are all paths, desire lines, objects, and interpellations equally accessible? How do we conceptualize access in different spaces? What kind of theoretical and empirical turns might emerge in disorienting disability?
Drawing on feminist studies, critical race studies, and queer studies, the contributors probe the meanings of the term disability and consider disability in relation to other categories of difference such as race, gender, and class. Essays challenge the historicity of disability; push disability studies to consider questions of loss, pain, and trauma; question the notion of disability as another form of diversity; and expand arguments about the ethics of care to consider communities not conventionally defined as disabled.
The issue’s Against the Day section, “Contentious Crossings: Struggles and Alliances for Freedom of Movement across the Mediterranean Sea,” brings together researchers and activists to reflect on struggles against the European border regime. All articles in this section are freely available for six months.
You might also find these recent books in disability studies of interest:
In this revised and expanded edition of Medicine Stories, Aurora Levins Morales weaves together the insights and lessons learned over a lifetime of activism to offer a new theory of social justice, bringing clarity and hope to tangled, emotionally charged social issues in beautiful and accessible language.
In Black Madness :: Mad Blackness Therí Alyce Pickens examines the speculative and science fiction of Octavia Butler, Nalo Hopkinson, and Tananarive Due to rethink the relationship between race and disability, thereby unsettling the common theorization that they are mutually constitutive.
Jane Gallop explores how disability and aging are commonly understood to undermine one’s sense of self in Sexuality, Disability, and Aging. She challenges narratives that register the decline of bodily potential and ability as nothing but an experience of loss.
Bridging black feminist theory with disability studies, in Bodyminds Reimagined, Sami Schalk traces how black women’s speculative fiction complicates the understanding of bodyminds in the context of race, gender, and (dis)ability, showing how the genre’s exploration of bodyminds that exist outside of the present open up new social and ethical possibilities.
It’s October and our fall publishing season is in full swing. Check out all the great books coming out this month.
The contributors to The Apartment Complex, edited by Pamela Robertson Wojcik, offer global perspectives on films from a diverse set of genres—from film noir and comedy to horror and musicals—that use apartment living to explore modern urbanism’s various forms and possibilities.
In See It Feelingly Ralph James Savarese showcases the voices of autistic readers by sharing their unique insights into literature and their sensory experiences of the world, thereby challenging common claims that people with autism have a limited ability to understand language, to partake in imaginative play, and to generate the complex theory of mind necessary to appreciate literature.
In Channeling the State Naomi Schiller explores how community television in Venezuela created openings for the urban poor to embrace the state as a collective process with the potential for creating positive social change.
J. Lorand Matory’s TheFetish Revisited casts an Afro-Atlantic eye on European social theory to show how Marx’s and Freud’s conceptions of the fetish illuminate and misrepresent the nature of Africa’s gods while demonstrating that Afro-Atlantic gods have their own social logic that is no less rational than European social theories.
The contributors to the volume Digital Sound Studies, edited by Mary Caton Lingold, Darren Mueller, and Whitney Trettien, explore the transformative potential of digital sound studies to create rich, multisensory experiences within scholarship, building on the work of digital humanists to evaluate and historicize new technologies and forms of knowledge.
Domestication Gone Wild, a collection edited by Heather Anne Swanson, Marianne Elisabeth Lien, and Gro B. Ween, offers a revisionary exploration of domestication as a narrative, ideal, and practice that reveals how our relations with animals and plants are intertwined with the politics of human difference.
In Paradoxes of Hawaiian Sovereignty J. Kēhaulani Kauanui examines contradictions of indigeneity and self-determination in U.S. domestic policy and international law, showing how Hawaiian elites’ approaches to reforming land, gender, and sexual regulation in the early nineteenth century that paved the way for sovereign recognition of the kingdom complicate contemporary nationalist activism, which too often includes disavowing the indigeneity of indigenous Hawaiians.
James N. Green’s Exiles within Exiles is a biography of the Brazilian revolutionary and social activist Herbert Daniel, whose life and political commitment shaped contemporary debates about social justice, gay rights, and HIV/AIDS.
A Primer for Teaching Women, Gender, and Sexuality in World History, by Merry E. Wiesner-Hanks and Urmi Engineer Willoughby, is a guide for college and high school teachers who are teaching women, gender, and sexuality history for the first time, for experienced teachers who want to reinvigorate their courses, for those who are training future teachers to prepare their own syllabi, and for teachers who want to incorporate the subject into their world history classes.
Pop América, 1965-1975, edited by Esther Gabara, is a bilingual, fully illustrated catalogue that accompanies a traveling exhibition of the same name. Pop América, 1965-1975 presents a vision of Pop art across the Americas as a whole. The exhibition appears at the McNay Museum of Art in San Antonio from October 4, 2018 until January 13, 2019 and then moves to the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University from February 21 to July 21, 2019. It will finally be featured at the Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art at Northwestern University from September 21 to December 8, 2019.
In the still-timely twentieth anniversary edition of Written in Stone—which includes a new preface and an extensive afterword—Sanford Levinson considers the debates and conflicts surrounding controversial monuments to public figures throughout the American South and the world.
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It is a good time to be a black nerd—a blerd, if you will. The past few years have seen increased appearances of not only black characters, but entire black speculative worlds, worlds where we are not merely sidekicks, but heroes and heroines. From Netflix’s Luke Cage and Jordan Peele’s Oscar-winning Get Out to Ryan Coogler’s record-shattering hit film Black Panther and Ava Duvernay’s just-released A Wrinkle in Time, we are in an incredible moment for black speculative film, television, and literature. I use “speculative” here, like I do in my new book, Bodyminds Reimagined, as an umbrella term for non-realist representations, including science fiction, fantasy, horror, and magical realism. For a long time, African American literature and film were heavily burdened by the need and desire for positive, realist representations of black people to combat a legacy of influential racist stereotypes. As I discuss in the introduction to Bodyminds Reimagined, available for free here, positive, authentic representations for black and other oppressed groups are often assumed to only occur through realism, like life-writing and historical dramas, but increasingly more writers and filmmakers are experimenting with how speculative fiction and film can also provide empowering representations of marginalized people.
Black Panther represents an alternate version of our world in which the people of Wakanda, a secret African nation that went into hiding to protect its supply of vibranium from the colonizing world, have developed their own advanced technology and culture. In this cinematic universe, based on the comic book series of the same title, the Wakandan king, T’Challa, serves as the Black Panther, protector of Wakanda, and is given extraordinary physical abilities through a mystical heart-shaped herb. Throughout the film, T’Challa relies on his genius younger sister Shuri, princess of Wakanda, who develops and improves vibranium technology, and an army of strong black women, the Dora Milaje, who are led by General Okoye. In this speculative world, black people are leaders and inventors as well as farmers, warriors, and spies. Black Panther reimagines the meaning of blackness and womanhood as well as the roles and expectations for black men and women. Importantly, the film provides this reimagining in conjunction with political messages about the history of colonization while also remaining firmly in the superhero genre—full of dramatic fights and chase scenes required of any superhero movie. While black, disabled, and feminist authors of speculative fiction, like Octavia E. Butler, Samuel Delany, Nalo Hopkinson, and Nnedi Okorafor have been creating politicized non-realist texts which center marginalized characters for years, Hollywood is now beginning to catch up, learning to combine diversity and politics with superheroes, science fiction, and other non-realist genres.
The move to reimagine race and gender identity through speculative fiction and film continues in the new film A Wrinkle in Time, originally a 1962 award-winning speculative fiction novel by Madeleine L’Engle. The book was initially rejected dozens of times, due in part, the author speculated, to its divergence from genre norms at the time, such as featuring a female protagonist. In its current adaptation, A Wrinkle in Time casts a black girl in the lead role of Meg Murray and other characters are also played by women of color. In the film, Meg, along with her friend and younger brother, bend time to travel the universe in order to find and rescue Meg’s scientist father who has been missing for four years. While not as explicitly political at Black Panther and created for a younger audience, A Wrinkle in Time nonetheless reimagines race and gender norms by creating a smart black girl character who must learn to love herself as she is, using her knowledge of physics and love for her family to become a hero.
What is missing from the race and gender diversity of these recent black speculative worlds, however, is disability. In Black Panther, while we see some bodily and age diversity among the tribal leaders, we do not see disabled characters except for the villain Ulysses Klaue who has a prosthetic hand—a representation that aligns with the trope of disability as a symbol or cause of evil. In A Wrinkle in Time, although there are messages about self-love (especially for black people, women and girls) embedded throughout, from Meg’s self-consciousness about her naturally curly hair to Oprah Winfrey’s character Mrs. Which rhetorically asking “Is there such thing as the wrong size?”, disability makes no appearance in the film. Further, in Black Panther CIA operative Everett Ross is shot in the spine but is completely healed by Wakandan technology. This choice suggests that disability has been eliminated in Wakanda. In Chapter 3 of Bodyminds Reimagined, I discuss the role of disability and technology in representations of the future, particularly in Octavia E. Butler’s Parable series. There I explain that western visions of the future are typically disability-free futures, like that suggested in Black Panther. Despite the fact that advances in human technology are often used for violence and war (especially against people of color) and despite the fact that technology increasingly allows people to live with more severe and varied disabilities than in the past, we continue to hold onto the ideal of a technologically-created able-bodied, able-minded future in which disabled people cease to exist. The belief in and hope for such a future or fantasy world is based on ableist notions that disabled lives are inherently worse than non-disabled lives and that disabled people do not contribute to the world in important ways.
The lack of positive disability representation (that is, disabled characters who aren’t villains, especially ones played by actually disabled actors) in the increasingly diverse world of speculative film demonstrates that there is still more work to be done. In Bodyminds Reimagined, I analyze how black women writers reimagine the possibilities and limits of bodyminds by creating complex, interesting, and powerful representations of disabled characters. With the release and success of films like Get Out, Black Panther, and A Wrinkle in Time, it seems that speculative film is beginning to catch up the speculative fiction in terms of race and gender, but not as much in terms of disability. By highlighting the role of disability alongside race and gender in black women’s speculative fiction, I hope that Bodyminds Reimagined contributes to this powerful moment in black speculative representations so that perhaps in the Black Panther sequel and other future films, we might see the kind of engagement with and embrace of disability identity that we have begun to see around blackness and womanhood as well.