“Arrival” and the Gravity of Women in Sci-Fi

Collection Leah's Got Issues

-Gravity, get it. (There are a lot of those coming so strap in.)

This is not a review of “Arrival,” although I will say I loved the film and think it’s a must-see for any sci-fi fans or for any people who like things that are good in general. If you like crappy movies, maybe don’t see this one. Or maybe you have seen it? (Get back to me after watching the movie and you’ll think that line is a gem…Possibly.)

There are so many significant themes within “Arrival” that we could discuss at length. (Or more aptly, discuss for eternity - see there, I did it again, I’ll show myself out.) The seemingly so timely world on the brink, needing to learn to communicate and get along. The subject of time itself, very “Slaughterhouse Five”-esque. But what I would like to explore is Amy Adams’ character, Dr. Louise Banks, and how roles for women in sci-fi have always been great models for equality.

Amy Adams character is human, and I don’t mean as in not an alien, I mean as in a full person. She has struggles; she has goals that are not all relating to a man finding her attractive or someone telling her that she has worth (as opposed to finding it within herself). She is good at her job and very hard working (and that’s not considered a bad quality). She is intelligent and does not apologize for it. She has a skill set and doesn’t arrive on the scene with a perfect hairstyle and cleavage hiked to her chin. (Not that I don’t appreciate a nice set as much as the next person but I grow weary when female scientists are portrayed as if they just came from the club. When did you get time for a blowout and for the lab?!) I feel her sadness and the weight of her choices. I see our humanity in the depth of the character.

When I was growing up I more often than not identified with male characters in movies (in comedies, thrillers, romance). I wanted to be someone who drove the plot forward, who had action driven goals (as opposed to reaction driven - waiting for someone to pick them for something), who had the incredible privilege of being allowed to be flawed, maybe even slightly unlikable in certain ways. Perhaps even funny. Men in films had the luxury and responsibility of making decisions for themselves and decisions are the mark of an individual.

Then I discovered women in science fiction. Sigourney Weaver as Ripley in “Alien.” Angela Bassett as Mace in “Strange Days.” Linda Hamilton as Sarah Conner in “Terminator 2.” Katee Sackhoff as Starbuck in “Battlestar Galactica.” (Just to name a few of my personal favorites.) All unapologetic for being strong. All not consumed with being polite and making sure everyone’s feelings aren’t hurt. All layered characters with action driven motivations. None of them waiting for someone to take off their glasses and ask them to a dance. They are valued for their skill set, not just for having a good set.

Women’s roles in sci-fi continue to delight my feminist heart. Charlize Theron as Vickers in “Prometheus” is practically horrible (and I don’t mean acting wise, I mean she’s a bad person). She is unredeemable. What a gift, to get to be unlikable. True equality. In sci-fi, women get to be rough around the edges. And I like rough around the edges.

I think other genres are starting to catch up, comedy in particular. But in sci-fi it’s not odd to see men and women carrying equal weight. We see female presidents, fighter pilots, communications officers on board the “Enterprise.” We are part of teams. We push limits and take risks. And most importantly, we make decisions, right or wrong. Besides Adams incredible betrayal of Louise, this role is marked by Louise’s tough choices, personal and those involving the fate of the world. She doesn’t let things just happen to her, she shoulders the consequences and makes the calls. Sci-fi has always offered up options of possible future scenarios. In its female roles, like Dr. Louise Banks, I believe it offers up what we know we have inside us already, but reflects it back for younger generations to see and look up to. 

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