‘Blade Runner 2’ and the Feminism of Science Fiction

Though Ridley Scott’s recent interview with The Daily Beast’s Marlow Stern runs a full two pages, virtually all of the media attention has been on its final sentence:

“And we’ll definitely be featuring a female protagonist [in Blade Runner 2].”

But the entire interview – which focuses not on Blade Runner 2, but on Scott’s long history of films starring women – is well worth reading. What it’s like to pitch a female-led action film, in Scott’s own words:

“It’s far more considered normal to have a female in the lead [than it was in the past], and yet, studios will always look at the bottom line and the value of a female lead versus a male lead globally, because none of the budgets for these films are getting any smaller, so they have to take into account the bottom line from a business standpoint.”

Last January, I wrote an article for The Atlantic called “The Rise of the Female-Led Action Film” that traced the shift of the action genre – which was once Hollywood’s most sexist genre, and has gradually become one of its most progressive. Ridley Scott and Alien writer Dan O’Bannon deserve much of the credit for this change; though Alien was groundbreaking in many ways, its most enduring legacy is protagonist Ellen Ripley, whose first silver-screen outing in 1979 represents the tipping point of the action genre’s shift from sexism to feminism.

James Cameron (the other great feminist action director) gets the credit for Ripley’s shift to a full-fledged action icon in the 1986 sequel Aliens. But the seeds of what the character would eventually become were sown in the original Alien’s ending. At its core – and unlike its three direct sequels – Alien is a horror movie, right down to the “final girl” at the end. But Scott makes an important distinction that separates Ripley from the “final girl” of Alien’s horror contemporaries:

“In The Texas Chainsaw Massacre […] that girl was still standing at the end covered in blood, but she’d survived rather than won. The difference with Ripley was that she had won and survived.”

Given his history, it’s unsurprising that Scott decided to cast Noomi Rapace as the lead in Prometheus after being impressed by her performance as Lisbeth Salander – arguably the most iconic new female character of the decade – in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

And the Blade Runner universe offers just as many opportunities for both insight and critique. Though the original Blade Runner’s feminist themes are far less front-and-center than Alien’s, there’s a scathing feminist critique embedded in its story as well. Blade Runner features an enormously gender-stratified society. All of the characters in power are men, and each of the major female characters is a replicant, with Daryl Hannah’s Pris getting the worst of it as a “basic pleasure model.” When replicant Roy Batty breaks one of Deckard’s fingers for each of the female replicants he’s “retired” during the film, he’s breaking the government tool that has literally dehumanized – and eventually dispatched – each of the most important women in his life. We know nothing about Blade Runner 2’s female protagonist, who could easily turn out to be a blade runner or a replicant (or both). But I’m thrilled by the idea of revisiting Blade Runner’s gender-stratified dystopia through the eyes of a woman.