Cookie Consent by
Skip to main navigation menu Skip to main content Skip to site footer

Special Issue Articles

Vol. 3 No. 1 (2021): Im/Mobilities in American Culture

'The Beast from the East': Mental Dis/Ability and the Fears of Post-Socialist Mobility in North American Popular Culture

April 25, 2019


This article analyzes characters in North American popular culture who migrated from the post-socialist world to the United States and other western countries. It focuses on the Anglo-Ukrainian clone Helena in the television show Orphan Black (Space/BBC America, 2013-2017), the Russian girl Esther in the horror movie Orphan (2009), and the psychopathic Russian assassin Villanelle in the television show Killing Eve (BBC America, 2018-2022). All these fictional characters are orphans. Moreover, they all share the same pathology: a mental disorder or disability that predestines them to become ruthless killers. I argue that the fictional killers embody North American fears surrounding the mobility of the Cold War Other in the aftermath of the fall of the so-called Iron Curtain and the dissolution of the Soviet Union.


  1. "At East-West Crossroads, Western Europe Hesitates." The New York Times. March 25, 1992.
  2. "Meet Masha, Adopted by a Pedophile." January 17, 2006.
  3. "NANCY GRACE Sit-Down With A Molestation Survivor." CNN. January 18, 2006.
  4. "One Child's Unending Abuse: From Disney World Girl to Drifter." WikiLeaks. March 19, 2008.
  5. "Vera Farmiga: Biography." Internet Movie Database. Accessed on April 17, 2021.
  6. Abramowitz, Rachel. "Quick Takes: Uproar over Orphan Movie." Los Angeles Times. July 10, 2009.
  7. Barry, Ellen. "U.S. Acquittal in Boy’s Death Causes Outrage in Russia Over Adoptions." The New York Times. January 3, 2009.
  8. Battiata, Mary. "'20/20': Inside Romanian Orphanages." The Washington Post. October 5, 1990. Internet Archive.
  9. Bauman, Zygmunt. Globalization: The Human Consequences. New York: Columbia University Press, 1998.
  10. Baynton, Douglas. "Disability and the Justification of Inequality in American History." In The New Disability History: American Perspectives, edited by Paul K. Longmore and Lauri Umansky, 33-57. New York: New York University Press, 2001.
  11. Berman, Sheri. "Five Myths about Socialism." The Washington Post. March 1, 2019.
  12. Borenstein, Eliot. "Our Borats, Our Selves: Yokels and Cosmopolitans on the Global Stage." Slavic Review 67, no. 1 (2008): 1-7.
  13. Chatterjee, Choi. "Transnational Romance, Terror, and Heroism: Russia in American Popular Fiction, 1860–1917." Comparative Studies in Society and History 50, no. 3 (2008): 753-77.
  14. Chen, Mel Y. "'The Stuff of Slow Constitution': Reading Down Syndrome for Race, Disability, and the Timing That Makes Them So." Somatechnics 6, no. 2 (2016): 235-48.
  15. Chivers, Sally, and Nicole Markotic, ed. The Problem Body: Projecting Disability on Film. Columbus: The Ohio State University Press, 2014.
  16. Deltcheva, Roumiana. "Eastern Women in Western Chronotypes: Representation of East European Women in Western Film after 1989." In Vampirettes, Wretches and Amazons: Western Representations of East European Women, edited by Valentine Glajar and Domnica Radulescu, 161-85. New York: Columbia University Press, 2004.
  17. Edelman, Lee. No Future: Queer Theory and the Death Drive. Durham: Duke University Press, 2004.
  18. El-Tayeb, Fatima. Queering Ethnicity in Postnational Europe. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2011.
  19. Engerman, David. Modernization from the Other Shore: American Intellectuals and the Romance of Russian Development. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2003.
  20. Graff, E. J. "Fatal Adoption: Did Max Allen Shatto's Adoptive Mother Kill Him?" February 22, 2013. Slate.
  21. Greene, Melissa Fay. "The New Movie Parents Hate." The Daily Beast. July 15, 2009.
  22. Greenfield, Patrick. "UK Braces for Extreme Weather as Met Office Warns of Snow." The Guardian. February 26, 2018.
  23. Hiatt, Fred. "Russia's Unwanted Children Being Adopted by West." The Washington Post. February 18, 1992.
  24. James, Susan Donaldson. "Torry Hansen: When an Adopted Child Hates You." ABC News. April 15, 2010.
  25. Jay, Sarah. "When Children Adopted Abroad Come with Too Many Troubles." The New York Times. June 23, 1996.
  26. Johnson, David Leslie. Orphan. February 5, 2007. Scribd.
  27. Johnson, Merri, and Robert McRuer. "Cripistemologies." Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies 8, no. 2 (2014): 127-147.
  28. Kafer, Alison. Feminist Queer Crip. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2013.
  29. Killing Eve. Produced by Sally Gentle, Lee Morris, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Emerald Fennell, Gina Mingacci, Sandra Oh, Jodie Comer, Damon Thomas, and Punit Kulkarni. New York: BBC America, 2018-2022.
  30. McRuer, Robert. Crip Theory: Cultural Signs of Queerness and Disability. New York: New York University Press, 2006.
  31. Mickenberg, Julia L. Anna. American Girls in Red Russia: Chasing the Soviet Dream. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2017.
  32. Minnesota Department of Human Services, Family and Children’s Services Division. Orphanages: An Historical Overview: The Role of Orphanages in Child Welfare Policy, by the Family and Children’s Services Division. St. Paul: Legislative Reference Library, 1995.
  33. Mirza, Mansha. "Disability and Cross-Border Mobility: Comparing Resettlement Experiences of Cambodian and Somali Refugees with Disabilities." Disability and Society 26, no. 5 (2011): 521-35.
  34. Odobescu, Vlad. "Half a Million Kids Survived Romania's 'Slaughterhouses of Souls.' Now They Want Justice." GlobalPost. December 28, 2015.
  35. Orphan Black. Created by Graeme Manson and John Fawcett. Toronto: Temple Street Productions, 2013-2017.
  36. Orphan. Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra. Burbank: Warner Bros., 2009.
  37. Pappas, Stephanie. "Early Neglect Alters Kids' Brains." Live Science. July 23, 2012.
  38. Pazicky, Diana Loercher. Cultural Orphans in America. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1998.
  39. Pickering, Sharon, and Leanne Weber. "Borders, Mobility and Technologies of Control." In Borders, Mobility and Technologies of Control, edited by Sharon Pickering and Leanne Weber, 1-19. Dordrecht: Springer Publications, 2006.
  40. Puar, Jasbir. Terrorist Assemblages: Homonationalism in Queer Times. Durham: Duke University Press, 2007.
  41. Richards, Penny L. "Points of Entry: Disability and the Historical Geography of Migration." Disability Studies Quarterly 24, no. 3 (2004).
  42. Sadowski-Smith, Claudia. New Immigrant Whiteness: Race, Neoliberalism, and Post-Soviet Migration to the United States. New York: New York University Press, 2018. Kindle ed.
  43. Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky. Epistemology of the Closet. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990.
  44. Shand, John Preston, Susan Hatters Friedman, and Fernando Espi Forcen. "The Horror, the Horror: Stigma on Screen." The Lancet Psychiatry 1, no. 6 (2014): 423-25.
  45. Snyder, Sharon, and David Mitchell. "Body Genres: An Anatomy of Disability in Film." In The Problem Body: Projecting Disability on Film, edited by Sally Chivers and Nicole Markotic, 179-205. Columbus: The Ohio State University Press, 2014.
  46. Traster, Tina. "Couple Wants to Void Adoption of ‘Mentally Ill’ Russian Orphans." The New York Post. October 26, 2014.
  47. Whewell, Tim. "Russia: Are Efforts to Help Thousands of 'Abandoned' Children Being Resisted?" BBC. April 2, 2013.
  48. Wiedlack, M. Katharina. "Seeing 'Red': Russian Women, US Homonationalism and New Cold War Cultures." Gender a výzkum/Gender and Research 17, no. 1 (2016): 29-40.
  49. Wiedlack, Maria Katharina. "'Both married, both moms, both determined to keep getting their message out': The Russian Pussy Riot and US Popular Culture." In Marlboro Men and California Gurls: Rethinking Gender in Popular Culture in the 21st Century, edited by Astrid M. Fellner, Marta Fernández, and Martina Martausová, 131-59. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2017.
  50. Williams, Kimberly A. Imagining Russia: Making Feminist Sense of American Nationalism in U.S.-Russian Relations. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2012.
  51. Wolff, Larry. Inventing Eastern Europe: The Map of Civilization on the Mind of the Enlightenment. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1994.

Similar Articles

1-10 of 84

You may also start an advanced similarity search for this article.