An open thank you for casting Sigourney Weaver
In between bites of dinner last night, my fiancee, Ba.D., spoke a rare sentence that blew my mind.
In the recent movie Salt, Angelina Jolie’s role was originally written for a man. Ba.D. explained that this has happened several times in cinematic history. He threw out a few more examples before adding as an afterthought, “Ellen Ripley wasn’t written as a woman.”
After watching me flap my jaw wordlessly a few times while trying to come up with a coherent response, he added, “The character was written to work as a man or a woman. It was just written as ‘Ripley.’”
Ba.D. and I were busy last night, but as our bodies moved around, my mind remained locked on the fact that, in an alternate universe somewhere, Sigourney Weaver is not the badass protagonist of Alien and Aliens.
I feel sad for the girls of that alternative universe, because in this one, Weaver’s Ripley played a powerful role in my believing I could be anything–anything–I dared dream. I didn’t have to want to be a princess or a cheerleader or a housewife. I could grow up and be like Ripley, not only defensively but offensively taking on and taking over some seriously hostile situations.
By the time Aliens came out, my mom had stopped bothering trying to keep me from watching scary movies with her. She’d long since recognized that I would find my way past her into the living room or surrounding areas, and I’d do it in a way that somehow avoided her detection during pre- and in-flight scans for her rebellious daughter.
When I watched Aliens with my mom, I was terrified by its aliens. Unlike most horror movies I’d seen by that point, I went to bed thinking not about aliens but about Ripley.
I was going to be like her someday.
I’d never had that feeling when I watched men take down aliens, monsters and various other creepy creatures. They were men. Men did men things. Women did women things, which seemed–as far as scary situations were concerned–to involve lots of running around screaming.
Ellen Ripley was a woman, which meant “kicking hostile ass” was a woman thing. The possibilities seemed endless, suddenly.
This was still on my mind when I awakened this morning. I spent a little time poking around for information on how the role of Ripley had been written and cast. Wikipedia’s Alien article summed it up neatly [references omitted]:
In developing the story O’Bannon had focused on writing the Alien first, putting off developing the characters for a later draft. He and Shusett had therefore written all of the roles as generic males with a note in the script explicitly stating “The crew is unisex and all parts are interchangeable for men or women.” This left Scott, Selway, and Goldberg free to interpret the characters as they liked and to cast accordingly.
About the casting of Ripley specifically, it’s stated:
The decision to make the lead character a woman was made by Giler and Hill, who felt this would help Alien stand out in the otherwise male-dominated genre of science fiction.
I loved Alien before, but I love it all the more in light of understanding these pieces. A group of men and woman creating what would prove to be one hell of a science fiction movie had the freedom to think of and cast its characters not as “man” or “woman” but as “person right for the role.”
I would have been eight or nine when seeing the right woman for the role change my very notions about what I could be when I grew up. Now, as a woman on the verge of 34, I look back on Aliens (which I watched long before its prequel) and am thankful Ripley stood tall and proud as an example of what I might someday become.
Never since my first watching have I had call to fight either aliens or monsters, but I am grateful I was given reason to believe I could do so and survive. If I could do that, there were easily a million other seemingly scary things within my power to achieve.
I am grateful for Ellen Ripley being my example, to Sigourney Weaver for being her, and for all those whose writing and casting decisions made it possible for one little girl to understand that “women things” could be anything dreamed up by man.
This was among posts accidentally deleted from this blog.