Alien: writing original characters and the Ripley Gender Switcheroo



I read this short piece today about a character who is arguably one of the most enduring icons of female empowerment in movies – Ellen Ripley. Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley was indeed a character that was “edgy” in 1979. This “brash, unwomanly woman” is a key reason why Alien is such a classic movie. That and Jonesy the cat of course (pictured with Ripley above).


I was thinking about the character of Ripley and a oft-quoted fact about her creation which isn’t mentioned in this particular piece: in early drafts of the Alien screenplay, Ripley was originally written as a man. At some point during pre-production the character’s gender was switched.


Does this gender switcheroo account for why the character is iconic and the movie a Sci-Fi classic? If Ripley had remained male, would he have ended up as a standard male action hero? Did this simple gender swap help transform a run-of-the-mill space horror into a hugely progressive, convention-defying “rebel movie” with a groundbreaking female character at its core?


I’m working on a movie screenplay at the moment and there’s one character which isn’t quite working for me. He’s a little clichéd … what you’d expect … as yet not surprising or unique enough for my taste.


I just might switch this “he” to a “she”.


If a character you’ve written seems flat, clichéd, stereotypical, maybe even sexist – why not switch their gender? Does your character HAVE to be a man/woman? And why restrict yourself to the Cis Male/Cis Female gender binary – for example, could your character be Trans? Bigender? Hell, Facebook now has fifty-eight possible gender options.


I like to call this technique the Ripley Gender Switcheroo.






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