Friday, June 19, 2015

Women of Hollywood - Sigourney Weaver - From Alien To Rwanda

Article author: Alwyn Ash
"At the right time, in the right light, everything is extraordinary"

Sigourney Weaver Image

In this series of articles, Alwyn Ash takes a look at some of the most inspirational ladies to rise from Hollywood's light...

Born Susan Alexandra Weaver on 8th October, 1949, American actress Sigourney Weaver has won the hearts and respect of fans and fellow artists around the world, starring in movies to die for and becoming a positive role model for young women. 1979 was a particularly interesting year: the Music for UNICEF Concert took place in January, raising money for charity; the Albert Einstein Memorial, a bronze statue of the famous German-born physicist, was unveiled at The National Academy of Sciences, USA; and the first ever Star Trek feature film was released in theatres. But perhaps one of the most fascinating events to emerge was this unknown "little" movie called Alien.

Directed by Ridley Scott, the story of a sinister acid-for-blood creature at liberty aboard a spacecraft, killing its crew, turned one of its characters into a cinematic icon. Weaver played Warrant Officer Ellen Ripley, protagonist of what would eventually become a film series. In contrast to blockbusters of the time including Mad Max, Rocky 2, and James Bond: Moonraker, Scott's sci-fi horror gave us a woman who survives a hellish nightmare even when the rest of her shipmates are killed. Ripley is strong-willed and intelligent, her instinct for self preservation equal to that of any Xenomorph! And Weaver was perfectly cast. Relatively unknown, the Manhattan-born actress had only appeared in a minor role in a Woody Allen film before auditioning for a part in the 1979 feature.

American film critic Ty Burr once said, "One of the real pleasures of 'Alien' is to watch the emergence of both Ellen Ripley as a character and Sigourney Weaver as a star".

For over three decades Weaver has worked tirelessly, featuring in everything from Ghostbusters (1984), Copycat (1995), and Red Lights (2012) to Ghostbusters 2 (1989) and Galaxy Quest (1999). Her career has brought her back to some familiar places, and back to working with old faces such as director James Cameron. In 1988 she helped bring to our attention the terrible practises that resulted in poaching and brutality inflicted on mountain gorillas, in the beautifully-produced Gorillas In The Mist, directed by Michael Apted and filmed on location in Rwanda. The work undertaken by primatologist Dian Fossey (who was viciously murdered in 1985 while camping in the Virunga Mountains) was inspirational, and Weaver's performance simply award-winning; she returned 20 years later for a documentary further examining Fossey's work and the gorillas that had become so important.

In 2006, Weaver said of her diverse work, "Certain roles demand stepping out of one's comfort zone, maybe every role demands it". A passionate environmentalist, the actress became honorary chairwoman of The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund, whose goal is the "conservation and protection of gorillas and their habitats in Africa".

Trickle Up, a programme founded in 1979 with the mission of empowering people living in poverty, had its 2008 annual gala hosted by Weaver. "More than 90% of Trickle Up participants are women, both because women’s access to capital is often restricted due to social and cultural constraints and because they consistently direct economic resources toward household needs. Trickle Up provides a pathway toward economic and social empowerment, helping participants build financial independence, gain self-confidence, and take on larger roles in their households and communities."

Sigourney Weaver is seen as independent and strong; a powerful representative of both Hollywood and women's rights. She clearly possesses passion, and empathy for the well-being of others. If the inspiration for Women of Hollywood has been a rise in feminism, of which I am a supporter, then who better an ambassador than a woman who has portrayed the independent and memorable? When talking about Ellen Ripley's creation, she has this to say, "I don't think the producers were feminists. In the original script, they were all men. I think they thought, 'let's change it up and make the survivor a woman because no one will ever think the survivor will be a woman'".

Image source courtesy of Article © Alwyn Ash 2015. Quotes (if applicable) used for publicity purposes only; no infringement of copyright is intended.