Tens of millions of books in print of The Hunger Games. The movie raking in mega-bucks in mere weeks. The public has once again embraced a kick-ass action heroine. Katniss rules, as she should. But I can never forget my first warrior princess, Ellen Ripley in Alien.
Rocky II, where Talia Shire stands by her man, much like she did in Rocky One.
Jane Fonda played brittle, ambitious reporters in two films, The China Syndrome and The Electric Horseman, where she stepped aside while the men did the brave thing.
Jessica Lange looked beautiful and embodied Death for Bob Fosse in All That Jazz. Diane Keaton was an adorable sidekick, as usual, in the Woody Allen show (this time called Manhattan.) Nichelle Nichols was her usual proud, sexy self as Uhura in Star Trek the Motion Picture, but I think the ship’s hull got more airtime than she did.
In other words, standard operational procedure for women in the movies.
It’s not that there weren’t good roles for women. The changing definition of motherhood, how a woman navigates the working world. It’s just that most of those characters weren’t the protagonists and they certainly weren’t … wait for it … The Hero.
Ripley was one of the first female characters in a scifi action movie who was the last man standing, the lone survivor, the victor. Never mind that she had to butch up while wearing what I seem to recall Stephen King calling ‘an entrancing pair of bikini panties.’
It was still a watershed moment for so many women who might not have even realized how much it mattered that we never got to be the hero.
Captain Dallas was totally positioned to be the Saver of the Day. Played by tall, dark and handsome Tom Skerritt, Dallas even throws himself protectively in front of Ripley early on. And they don’t show him actually get skewered by the alien. I had seen enough movies to know that meant he was going to pop up later on and rescue the damsel in distress.
But in the end, there she was, all alone, going mano-a-mano against the bad guy, a sister doing it for herself. Much like Katniss in the Hunger Games arena, Ripley has to make do with the resources around her, outsmarting a much more powerful opponent. Even sexist dudes who told Helen Reddy to shut up and called Billie Jean King a bitch were clutching their seat handles going, “Ripley, you’re my hero!”
Glass ceilings shattered. Possibilities sprang forth. A pop culture icon was born. It’s not that there would never have been a Katniss without Ripley. It’s just that Ripley smacked us all in the face first and woke us up to the fact that half of the human population was ready to be part of the story, too.
Some sisters of Ripley:
Xena, Warrior Princess