Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


English & Film Studies

Program Name/Specialization

Gender and Genre


Faculty of Arts

First Advisor

Russell Kilbourn

Advisor Role



In films that feature disability, we see the recursive and discussion-limiting impulse to say “this representation is negative. Therefore, the representation should not be seen,” based on critical theories and methodologies outside the purview of film studies. Unfortunately, the overlay of an English, narratological, sociological, or medical methodology and terminology onto a film representation of disability is ultimately recursive and self-limiting; critical and advocate calls for accuracy to the lived experience of people with disabilities in on-screen representations decline to engage with the visual construction of cinematic representations of disability and the often fascinating cinematographic and thematic patterns that emerge from representations that might otherwise be dismissed as negative or inaccurate. The lack of a film-studies based framework for understanding representations of disability is problematic because non-film studies-based methods fail to take into account the unique, medium-based ways in which film mediates visual representations of disability. The filmic stare is a critical-theoretical framework with which scholars can precisely identify and describe the cinematographic construction of representations of disability using film studies-based methods and terms. Developed through a merging of Rosemarie Garland-Thomson’s stare and Laura Mulvey’s male gaze, the filmic stare explores the construction of a visual synecdoche, a refusal to diagnose fictional characters, and the complex network of shots and miseen-scène that work together to compose a representation of a disability. To further highlight the shift away from diagnosing fictional characters as well as the expansion and furthering of discourse around disability in film, the case studies herein focus on film adaptations of early modern drama, including The Duchess of Malfi, Titus Andronicus, and Macbeth. By using a medium-specific methodology and terms to explore cinematic representations of disability, the questions of medical accuracy and narratological crutches become moot and discourses of disability in film can expand and move forward rather than being self-stifled by methods appropriated from other fields.

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