I don’t really consider myself a science fiction fan. If my family is having a movie night, and there’s the option of a Whodunnit or an intergalactic adventure, I will probably choose the former. As to why this particular genre and I have never fully clicked, I don’t think I’ll ever truly know. In fact, when I do sit down to watch one of these films, I’m very picky about what it is going to be; I usually just resort to the major blockbusters, but even then, they don’t sit in the back of my mind for days. Yet over the years I’ve found myself gravitating towards science fiction more and more, and it’s not because of the visual effects, the storylines, or even the scores, but rather: it’s the women. The female characters are the ones who capture my attention the most, time and time again. For the genre that I’ve found to be most disagreeable in the past, it certainly has some of cinema’s most noteworthy, well-developed female characters and, thanks to the long-overdue fight for equal representation and treatment in the entertainment industry, we have definitely been seeing a higher number of female-led, and female-centric projects, and science fiction is no exception. With that said, here’s a campaign of my own for the women that have both revolutionised what it means to be powerful on earth and in the great unknown beyond it.
I recognise that I am by no means an expert on this type of film, but it seems to me that, even when women were not being given their rightful time in the spotlight, the female characters populating the alternate worlds and worlds beyond the sky that are so heavily featured in sci-fi, have always been strong. Despite their male counterparts basking in the glow of the camera by being cast front and centre, or being given the opportunity to act the hero most days, it seems to me that what people are remembering, what they’re taking notice of, is the women who follow alongside them into battle, or dare to defy them. If I were to say Stranger Things, what would be the first thing that popped into your mind (besides Eggos)? I’m guessing it would be Eleven, in her iconic pink dress, sporting a nosebleed while showing her crazy telekinetic powers. What about Star Wars? Notwithstanding the flashy lightsabers and the Death Star, would it be so far off to say that Leia or Rey would pop into your head soon after? If I were to say Westworld, kick ass AI robot Dolores Abernathy would most likely make an appearance in your imagination, as would Imperator Furiosa if I said Mad Max. I could go on; but don’t you see? Science fiction is nothing without its women.
Men may lead the charge with regards to propelling the plot from point A to point B, and finishing off the antagonist, but it’s the women who add depth to what could be nothing more than a clash of muscles and spaceships. Their strength lies in the background, and makes the narrative more realistic, more relatable. We can’t all be the stoic, vindictive leader who survives time and time again until his mission is completed. Sometimes, all we can be is our flawed self, and the women above, to name a few, are certainly flawed. They’re insecure, ignorant, grieving, proud and lost, but they aren’t afraid to don their scars; it’s their armour and it’s what allows them to truly survive in the worlds that aren’t designed for them to do so. Like earth, the galaxy, it seems, has also been recreated for men. They’re the ones in charge, they’re the ones who gain power and lead the rebellion against others. They’re the ones who wield that unwieldable weapon, who discover the undiscoverable, and defeat the undefeatable.
However, they rarely do it alone. Sure, Kyle Reese was able to track down the Terminator, but it was Sarah Connor whose life and decisions could determine the very future of mankind. It was Cassandra Railly who uncovered the origins of the manmade virus in the television reboot of 12 Monkeys. It was Neytiri who educated Jake Sully about Pandora and revealed to him all its valuable treasures. And, most recently, it was Carol Danvers’ history and influence that led to the creation of the Avengers. Behind every gallant hero, no matter what genre, there’s a woman there to give him a firm base to stand on. Men need them, but it doesn’t go the other way; they are independent and can handle themselves aptly. These women persevere both physically and mentally; they bare twice the burden because they’re often the ones who remain through thick and thin, when everyone else has come and gone, and pick the hero back up and remind them, teach them to carry on. Their goodness is overlooked as a weakness-didn’t you know that kindness won’t stop that planet from exploding-and their willingness to keep the group together even though things are constantly threatening to rip them all apart is what is exploited by the enemy. But that doesn’t stop them; if anything, it gives them a motivation beyond the one-sidedness of revenge, anger or power, which injects the outlandishness of science fiction with the humanity that it needs and requires. These women are genuine. They’re nothing but themselves, and that makes them dangerous.
The actresses that are tasked with bringing some of these women to life should be commended. Yes, James Cameron and J.J. Abrams and the directors’ visions do play an important role, but there’s something about stepping into the actual shoes of that character, erasing yourself and accepting the personality of another. It’s a tough job to do it so convincingly, especially when a green screen is your most frequent filming partner. Actresses Daisy Ridley, Sigourney Weaver, Zoe Saldana, Summer Glau and Lea Thompson have risen to fame starring in their sci-fi respected roles, and in most, if not all, of these cases, it’s next to impossible to picture anyone else as Gamora or Ellen Ripley. It’s their ability to transcend the boundaries of the script and the scene and immerse themselves wholeheartedly in the wild, wild expanse that is the genre, dedicating their time and effort to invigorating a fictional figure into a muse and a role model for countless others to look up to. Thousands of little girls look up to Emma Watson’s Belle, or Jennifer Lawrence’s Katniss, but why can’t they-why shouldn’t they-look up to science fiction heroines too?
Perhaps the reason is that most girls dream of being a royal for a time, or in love and perhaps they think, both unconsciously and consciously, that those women are closer to themselves. How could I possibly relate to Jyn Erso or Nebula? They’re running around shooting blasters and collecting infinity stones. Their struggles and stresses are far too dramatic in comparison to mine. It all comes back to the actresses, and the essence of the character themselves. Okay, while I have to accept the fact that I’m never going to be a robot-human hybrid like Alicia Vikander’s Ava in Ex Machina, or be selected to help wage an underground war against the computers like Trinity does in The Matrix, we women are the same in many ways no matter how extraordinary or unextraordinary our external circumstances may be. Like Gamora, I value the bonds of family. Like Natalie Portman’s Lena in Annihilation, I’m curious, and I have trouble coming to terms with myself like Sophie Turner’s Jean Grey. The list goes on. Women are diverse in the most remarkable ways, and yet, we are universal because we are women. We are distinct, not just from men but because of our history. We deal with and overcome challenges alongside one another, we empower one another, cry with one another, mould one another into something beautiful. It’s a continual process that will never cease. Nor should it ever. Science fiction is a vessel for these stories to live on, to be told in the first place.
Though the surface of such films can be greatly obscured, when we finally allow ourselves to see past all that, to really see, they are not so different than our own lives. Science fiction revolves around a single question: what if? What if aliens visited us unexpectedly? What if we could travel back in time and change the past? What if we were all clones? What if we could survive on a neighbouring planet? Real life is built upon the same question, though a tad less spectacular. What if I don’t win this? What if they don’t love me back? What if my family is taken away from me? And, as I noted earlier, these questions lie in the hearts of the women of science fiction. They are us, and we are them. They live out our fears and anxieties on a larger scale but by doing so, they let us know that if it’s possible to destroy that meteor hurtling through the Milky Way, or restore the universe after the snap, then it is more than possible for us to endure whatever comes our way. Sci-fi is there for us when we need it. It also provides an escape into a place beyond anything we can experience. We can grow and learn alongside Diana on Themyscira. We can enter the dreams of strangers, traverse the OASIS and decode the language of sentient aliens. We can return as many times as we wish, to the women who are there waiting for us to join and share in their adventure.
Whether you agree with me or not, I believe that this line of thinking applies with every sort of woman in every genre. I know I still have plenty to learn about sci-fi and what it has to offer, but I am excited to learn, and, I’m excited about the women I am sure to meet.
by Kacy Hogg
Kacy is an English Lit student living in the Great White North (no not Winterfell unfortunately), Canada. Her favourite films include the Harry Potter series, Cinderella, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, The Hangover, and Lady Bird. She’s also an avid binge-watcher of Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead. You can follow her on Twitter here: @KacHogg95