One character detail, revealed during a scene in James Cameron’s Aliens, proves that Ridley Scott’s original Alien movie was truly ahead of its time.
Ridley Scott’s legendary Alien is genre-defining in many ways, but one specific character detail, revealed in James Cameron’s Aliens, proves that it was truly trailblazing. Set on the commercial space freighter Nostromo, Alien follows the ship’s seven-person crew as they investigate an unknown distress signal, only to be menaced by a deadly extraterrestrial known only as a Xenomorph. Designed beautifully by legendary artist H.R. Giger, Alien‘s unique Xenomorph remains iconic in the modern movie landscape, and the incredibly detailed and intricate production design of the Nostromo ship still holds up to this day.
Alien is not only one of the best Sigourney Weaver horror movies, but one of the best examples of the genre in film history. However, as revealed in Aliens, Ridley Scott’s original Alien film is important for another reason. Played by Veronica Cartwright, Joan Lambert is the only other woman on the crew of the Nostromo aside from Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley. As the Xenomorph begins killing the crew one by one, Lambert snaps and is the first to suggest abandoning the ship. However, one detail revealed in Aliens shows that Lambert’s character is perhaps the most important of Alien‘s cast in terms of film history.
Alien’s Joan Lambert Was Actually A Trans Woman
Joan Lambert, the Nostromo’s navigator, is shown to be a trans woman during Ripley’s debriefing scene in Aliens. This can be seen in the dossier behind Ripley during the sequence, which flashes between the several deceased crew members of the Nostromo ship from Alien. While this would not make her the first canonical trans character in film history, it does make her one of the earlier examples of trans representation – certainly one with a major role in the story and portrayed with sympathy. The dossier can be viewed in full on the DVD and Blu-ray release of Aliens as a special feature.
This reveal in Aliens retroactively makes Lambert one of the first portrayals of a transgender character in a blockbuster movie, especially as Alien was released only four years after the “blockbuster” concept began with Steven Spielberg’s Jaws. It is a small, yet meaningful, moment within a franchise that has always explored gender roles and sexuality. Ripley is an incredibly important female protagonist and every character in the original script for Alien was written as gender-neutral. However, this early portrayal of a trans character does not necessarily hold up as well as Alien‘s ageless production design.
How Does Alien’s Trans Portrayal Hold Up?
Overall, Alien‘s portrayal of a trans character is mixed. Lambert is still portrayed by a cis actress, rather than a trans woman, and Lambert being a trans character is only canon due to a small detail from the film’s sequel. However, it was still an important, if tiny, step forward. At the time, trans characters were often the butt of jokes, such as in Monty Python’s Life of Brian, which was also released in 1979.
Lambert does, however, almost survive the whole of Alien, as she is the final human character to be killed by the Xenomorph. Her gender identity is also never treated as a joke or an issue with any of the other characters in Alien or Aliens. Ridley Scott’s Alien is still a great horror movie that was ahead of its time for many reasons, and the detail in Aliens revealing that Lambert was a trans woman is certainly one of them.
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