Also, she is totally not a dude!
In Annihilation, a group sits around a table discussing the people who will be heading on a dangerous mission into a logic-defying mystery box they call The Shimmer. There’s Anya, a paramedic; Josie, a physicist; and Dr. Ventress, a psychologist. “All women?” someone asks. “Scientists,” one corrects. Yes! And they’re unlike any other female scientists in films I’ve seen—not just because they carry guns, but because they work as a team of all women.
This post started, as most things do, with a complaint. The object of my ire was another recent sci-fi outing with a female lead: The Cloverfield Paradox. There was much discussion about the movie after it made its sudden Netflix debut following the Super Bowl. Most of it centered on the marketing: Was it a shrewd move of Netflix to generate buzz with an unexpected release? Or was it another case of the streaming platform burying an acquisition that should’ve been given a theatrical run?
Instead of weighing into that fray, my post-Paradox reaction was this: Oh, great, another female astronaut with dead kids.
There were dead kids in The Cloverfield Paradox. There was a dead kid in Gravity. There were dead kids in Arrival. And, if female scientists weren’t motivated by children (either the desire to have them or the grief over losing them), it was absent fathers (think Contact, Twister). Meanwhile, when Capa sends his last message back to Earth in Sunshine, he sends it to his sister, and talks about saving the world.
Of course, when I brought this up on Twitter, people started chiming in right away with more examples and counter-examples. So I tried to be semi-scientific about it, and collect data points that either prove or disprove my hypotheses about the portrayals of female scientists in film. Who is allowed to save the world for altruistic reasons, and who has to be motivated by a dead kid or dad or spouse? Who are the engineers and physicists, and who are the biologists and language experts?