I’m no expert—I’m hearing and my understanding of American Sign Language is extremely limited—so please feel free to correct/add on to this! But I was just really struck by (and loved!) Elisa’s “F U” to Strickland in the above scene, which was featured at the end of the newly-released Red Band trailer for The Shape of Water.
Here, Elisa is literally signing “F” and “U” from the ASL alphabet, but what makes this so striking is that, by doing so, she’s not exactly speaking ASL—she’s fingerspelling English.
ASL is a completely separate language from spoken/written English, and fingerspelling is pretty much only used if there are no ASL equivalents for what needs to be conveyed, such as in the case of names. (In fact, when I was learning ASL, my teacher waited a while before teaching us the alphabet because she didn’t want us fingerspelling English instead of actually trying to sign!)
So the fact that Elisa uses fingerspelling here, when there are other ways in ASL to convey the idea of “fuck you,” says a lot. It says even more when you consider how she’s fingerspelling, since her fingerspelling here is not how a deaf person/someone who speaks ASL would typically fingerspell.
‘Cause fingerspelling? It’s fast. Extremely fast. Each letter flows smoothly into the next. When you fingerspell, it should be an incredibly fluid motion.
But here? That’s 110% not the case. Elisa is slow and measured. She holds out each letter nice and long. It’s the kinda way you’d fingerspell to someone learning ASL—and actually, my teacher would say to not even do that. If you slow down so much for them all the time, they’ll never be able to keep up with real ASL!
So, this scene? This scene with Elisa fingerspelling something that doesn’t need to be fingerspelled, in an incredible, deliberate, slower-than-college-WiFi pace? Well, Elisa is doing more than just dissing Strickland—she’s absolutely taunting him. She’s saying, “I’m speaking your language. I dare you to understand me.”
And she knows that he won’t. She’s speaking crystal clearly, no stuttering, no hesitance, no nothing, and Strickland can’t even be damned to attempt the basicASL alphabet because he would never, ever try to understand anything different from him.
And Elisa knows this and completely, totally rubs it in his bigoted face.
To me, the funniest thing about Guillermo del Toro’s upcoming “The Shape of Water” is that I have read so many fanfics that use this setup, but it is the first time I am seeing the whole “mermaid captured to be examined and potentally killed for research purposes but orchestrates an escape with a low-ranking worker in the facility who doesn’t quite fit in” thing in an actual published medium.
Fairy tales were born in times of trouble, in complicated times - when hope felt lost. I made The Shape of Water as an antidote to cynicism. For it seems to me that when we speak of love - when we believe in love - we do so in a hopeless way. We fear looking naive and even disingenuous. But Love is real - absolutely real - and, like water, it is the most gentle and most powerful force in the Universe. It is free and formless until it pours into its recipient, until we let it in. Our eyes are blind. But our soul is not. It recognizes love in whatever shape it comes to us.
i commissioned this piece from the kind and talented @mesknoxx as a companion to chapter four of my fluffy season three fix it fic – we don’t talk very much (we just fake being nice) – in which clarke and lexa attend an azgeda coronation ball. this is the artist’s rendering of the dresses they wore.