Fisti over at the awesomely-named Fistful of Films is hosting his own blogathon event, the Fisti Recast-athon. The idea is to raise awareness of inequalities of how actresses of color are treated in cinema. Quite simply, I am supposed to find an Oscar-nominated role that was played by a white actress but could have been done by one of color (so essentially barring period pieces and other works where it was necessary for the character to be white, anything is fair game).
Up until now I've been a bit unsure of precisely how to decide what to contribute. The best I've been able to do was promote his blogathon through twitter and write a partial contribution in which I take a different approach by taking an iconic male character from classic literature and making a case for why he could be played by a woman of any ethnicity. Apparently I made a pretty good case on that front as well, and I think it could especially work if you could do the character in question in such a way as to make their ethnicity impossible to determine for sure.
That said, I still should give Fisti a real contribution, so I've decided to do something a bit daring this time round especially since this is a character that a lot of people (myself included) really like. Here it goes...
The person I have decided to try recasting is Ellen Ripley from the Alien films (the Oscar nomination was for Aliens). Now to be fair, the whole series has generally been pretty good about race. Most, if not all the films try to incorporate complex characters of color, and before you point out the fact that they usually die, let me counter by saying that most of the black characters across the franchise tend to outlive a large portion of the cast, even being among the last to die in Alien and Prometheus. Still, the series is usually driven by white female protagonists, and as much as I love Sigourney Weaver's performance it is an interesting though experiment to try and imagine what Ripley might be like with a different actress. The tricky part is of course to find a good actress from the 1970's to take her place.
So now I have to find a suitable black actress to take Sigourney's place. This is a tricky one since I had a heck of a time finding any suitable actresses of color, letalone ones from the 1970's. The best alternative I have is Lisa Bonet, who was working roughly around that time. Her big thing was being on The Cosby Show but if her performance in Angel Heart is anything to go on she was definitely open to taking risks by breaking out of her family-friendly image, and she was almost certainly good material for a horror film.
Can you imagine Lisa Bonet being the one duct taping a flamethrower to a shotgun and going on a rampage through a reactor to take on the alien queen. I'm not entirely sure I can shake off the image of Sigourney Weaver but this would have still been an interesting experience. Ripley was timed just right that she became an icon of feminism, but perhaps if Bonet had been cast she could have been a symbol for the Civil Rights movements as well.