NxPNW Student Perspectives: Women in Science Fiction

At SPU, students are asking good questions about movies as they engage the art of cinema in the classroom. In courses like “Film History I: Beginnings-1960” and “Film & Faith,” they are equipped with new knowledge and skills that make for more rewarding experiences at the movies.

And as they write about film, they are discovering how movies create spaces within which — through the dynamic experiences of observation, discussion, critical studies, academic writing, and further discussion — heart and minds grow richer in understanding and empathy.

In our new series of posts  called “NxPNW Student Perspectives,” we’ll catch glimpses of curiosity leading to discovery, arguments leading to discussion, and questions leading to conviction.

In a recent film-focused section of Writing 1100 — the Disciplinary Research and Writing Seminar — students offered insightful perspectives on a variety of timely subjects.

Why aren’t we seeing stronger roles for women in science fiction?

In Blade Runner, Sean Young plays Rachel, the detective’s almost-human love interest.


In her paper exploring this question, a writing student noted the significance of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein in the early evolution of science fiction as a genre. But she also noted that, even though sci-fi is defined as “literature of the Other,” womankind remains an “Other” poorly understood and badly misrepresented in sci-fi narratives and movies.

She claims that filmmakers continue to “adhere faithfully” to outdated gender stereotypes: “[P]atterns and traditions of the past have an effect on the future. Some may argue that society has significantly evolved in the treatment of women, but I find that many of the portrayals [in contemporary cinema] are very much the same.

She finds the hero of Blade Runner guilty of misogynistic behavior toward the film’s primary female character. Rachel (Sean Young) may be an android, but she is portrayed as having achieved a substantial level of sentience, and Deckard (Harrison Ford) makes violent advances toward her that the film frames as romantic. “[S]he is ‘Othered’ by Ridley Scott through Deckard,” the writer argues, “to the point where our protagonist no longer respects her body or her boundaries.

Looking closely at Denis Villeneuve’s  2017 sequel, Blade Runner 2049, the writer rejects the director’s claims that his movie is merely a “mirror on society” and its mistreatment of women. The film goes to graphic, ‘realistic’ extremes in its depictions of sexual violence towards women, she says, but the film “is almost completely devoid of realism in any other aspect. … It is awfully convenient for Villeneuve that this exploitation of women he imagines in the future provides him with the sex appeal he needs to market his movie.

Sigourney Weaver as Ripley in Alien.

The writer even expresses some dissatisfaction with one of science fiction’s most celebrated female protagonists: Ripley from Ridley Scott’s earlier science fiction film Alien. Ripley, the writer argues, was originally written as a male character. And the revised ‘hero’ ends up serving as “a foil for the real star of Alien: the alien.” What’s more, the director “finds a way to worm in a gratuitous panty shot of Ripley.”

To make clear that she is not aiming to completely discredit these films, the writer adds that she has “a deeply rooted appreciation” for the films she’s examining. “However, it is only through a critique of society that we will grow. I criticize science fiction because I want it to be better.

That’s the spirit!

Lauren Wilford co-authors book on Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs

SPU English alum Lauren Wilford ’13  has, along with her husband Ryan Stevenson, co-authored The Wes Anderson Collection: Isle of Dogs (Abrams, 2018).

A blog post cannot convey the vivd color, quality, and weight of this volume. It’s a beautiful hardbound treasury of film studies, filmmaker interviews, and photography that together bring to life an extravagant animated feature.

And that’s not the only major 2018 accomplishment for Wilford in the world of film.  in December, GKids released a 30th-anniversary edition of the Studio Ghibli classic My Neighbor Totoro, which features Wilford’s essay “Towards a True Children’s Cinema: On My Neighbor Totoro,” which was originally published at the film criticism website Bright Wall Dark Room. 

[Note: Wilford’s essay about the work of Hayao Miyazaki is a featured text in SPU’s Faith and Film course.]

Lauren has risen in five short years to a Senior Editor position at Bright Wall Dark Room. Her work is so widely respected that some of her essays have been republished at RogerEbert.com. She’s also been published by Vice, The Other Journal, Christianity Today, Gradient, and Christ and Pop Culture.

Lauren and Ryan live and collaborate in Providence, Rhode Island. You can follow her work on Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, LinkedIn, and Letterboxd.

Congratulations, Lauren!

The Falcon reviews The Favourite

Attention, SPU community: Just because Seattle Pacific is located in Seattle’s Queen Anne neighborhood, that doesn’t mean The Favourite, which is about Queen Anne herself, is your kind of movie.

Heidi Speck kicks off the new year at The Falcon by reviewing Yorgos Lanthimos’s latest film: a troubling and hilarious period piece called The Favourite, starring Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, and Rachel Weisz.

Speck writes that Lanthimos

… transforms a tidy, controlled, sickly sweet society into a swarm of primal, trivial, cutthroat behavior.

In the simplest of words, “The Favourite” is incredible. Beautifully filmed, extraordinarily performed and expertly written.

However, it is the kind of movie that will rip out your soul, tickle it, spit on it, stomp on it, and shove back into your body so you can rot like its cast of characters do.

Feasts of Cinema: movies for hungry moviegoers

Jiro Dreams of Sushi, a 2012 documentary that scored points with audiences and then sent them rushing out to their nearest sushi bars, is now streaming on Netflix. And so I should warn you: If you’re hungry, beware.

David Gelb’s documentary introduces us to a great sushi chef and — let’s face it — a great artist. But there’s nothing particularly remarkable about the movie itself. It’s a familiar formula: “Here’s a great man, here’s the story of how he rose to fame and fortune out of unspeakable hardship, here is his work, here is the unbelievable amount of effort that goes on behind the scenes of his restaurant….” Etcetera, etcetera. It’s a formula because it works. You’d have to go out of your way to prevent this story from inspiring people.

But oh… the food. The food!

Each plate of Jiro’s sushi sparkles like the work of a master jeweler, but this jewelry sets you to salivating. You’ll believe that this is a restaurant worth the price of a trip halfway around the world.

If we consider the popularity of The Great British Bake-Off (known to Americans as The Great British Baking Show) and countless more mainstream shows about menus and recipes, it’s no surprise that foodie movies have become a genre unto themselves. Culinary cinema appeals to audiences internationally, no matter what language the characters speak.

But what’s at the root of this increasing attraction to movies made for this particular appetite? Why do we torment ourselves by watching movies about people cooking and eating when we cannot share the meal?

Several possible answers suggest themselves. Continue reading “Feasts of Cinema: movies for hungry moviegoers”

Seattle premiere of Prospect puts SPU alumni in the spotlight

On Thursday and Friday, November 8 and 9, Seattle’s Regal Meridian 16 Cinemas sold out two evening screenings of the new science-fiction thriller Prospect. Each time, when the end credits rolled, the crowd applauded with enthusiasm. But the night was far from over. There were more amazing stories yet to be shared.

After Thursday night’s screening, the film’s writers and directors — SPU alumni Chris Caldwell ’09 and Zeek Earl ’10 — took the stage.

Filmmakers Chris Caldwell (center) and Zeek Earl (right) describe the challenges of making a perilous alien world come alive on the big screen.

I interviewed them there about their long and often challenging journey from the dreams and projects of their undergraduate years, to the challenges of building an commercial production company, to the release of their first short film “In the Pines,” to the release of the first version of “Prospect” (an ambitious sci-fi short), to the arduous quest for funding, to the difficult filming of the feature-length Prospect in the Hoh Rain Forest on the Olympic Peninsula. Continue reading “Seattle premiere of Prospect puts SPU alumni in the spotlight”

Adam Driver in a movie that captures the writing life

Sometimes, lying awake at night, side by side, my wife Anne and I listen to our neighborhood. Traffic becomes the ocean, waves breaking on a beach. Wind in the evergreens is the roar of a crowd. Fire trucks: trumpeting elephants that charge from the circus tent of the fire station next door. Anne’s favorite is the rush of the midnight street sweeper. She has written poems about the driver’s rumbling reverie, out there “tracing the bones of the city.” Continue reading “Adam Driver in a movie that captures the writing life”

The Sacred Cinema Canon: Days of Heaven

The world was on fire. At least, that’s what it smelled like in Seattle during the middle of August this year. Those of us working on the Seattle Pacific University campus didn’t need to look out the windows at the heavy haze half-erasing the scenery; we knew from the incense on the air that we were engulfed in the consequences of wildfires — several of them — raging around the Pacific Northwest. It gave most of us an ongoing sense of unease, as the sun became an angry red eye in the sky, and certain prophecies about “the Last Days” came to our minds.

For some of us who love the movies, something else came to mind: a movie that is now 40 years old, but that fills the screen with the spectacle of a wildfire that roars at the characters — and at the audience — in a voice of apocalyptic judgment.

This month marks the 40th anniversary of Days of Heaven, a film frequently celebrated as a landmark work of spiritual artistry and religious cinema. Continue reading “The Sacred Cinema Canon: Days of Heaven”