Originally published for Bitch Flicks’ June 2016 theme of “Ladies of the 1980s” and still available in full (28/06/16).
When Ridley Scott cast Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) in Alien, he created The First: The First Action Heroine; The First Female in a Science Fiction Film That Did Not Have To Be Rescued or Was Not Brunch for a Swamp Monster. Such titles may as well be monikers attached to her name. Ripley was important, and still is, her legacy living on in many an action heroine that followed: Buffy (the Vampire Slayer), The Bride (Kill Bill), G.I Jane, Trinity (The Matrix), Furiosa (Mad Max: Fury Road) and Sarah Connor’s transformation in Terminator 2.
It is science fiction fact however, that Ellen Ripley should not have been “Ellen Ripley” at all. Dan O’Bannon’s original script for Alien stated: “The crew is unisex and all parts are interchangeable for men and women.” In the climate of the time, it is wholly plausible that Ripley was intended to be a male, as despite the script’s stated gender ambiguity, the original name for the character was still “Martin Roby.” So far so standard for horror and sci-fi, for the genres had always been male-dominated whether it be characters on-screen or in literature or those who create them. After all, it was not until the New Wave of sci-fi that women began to truly stake their claim on the genre, birthing feminist science fiction and writers such as Margaret Atwood, Joanna Russ, Marge Piercy, Ursula K. LeGuin and the singular entity that is Octavia Butler — C.L. Moore and Leigh Brackett being exceptions in the “Golden Age,” and Brackett went on to contribute to the screenplay of The Empire Strikes Back.
“I don’t see it as that revolutionary to cast a female as the lead in an action picture,” said O’Bannon. “It didn’t boggle me then, and it doesn’t boggle me now. My conception from scratch was that this would be a co-ed crew. I thought there was no reason you had to adhere to the convention of the all-male crew anymore.
After all, Star Trek had already had a mixed gender crew for years, and Ridley Scott had a similar reaction when the prospect of making the character female was pitched to him (“I just said, ‘That’s a good idea.”’).
Read my previous Bitch Flicks post: “Why Black Widow is the “Realest” Superheroine of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (Yes, Even After All Those Tropes)”!