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Disability in the Aliens Franchise

by Editor
A series of 6 Alien posters. Starting with Alien, and then Aliens, Alien 3, Alien Resurrection, Prometheus, and Alien.

CN: Spoilers

I love Aliens. In fact, I would say it’s probably my favorite horror franchise merely because it’s one of the best written, in my humble opinion. I often discuss how Alien and the next three films, Aliens, Alien III, and Alien: Resurrection should be renamed How to Gaslight a Woman

Essentially, all of these films are about how one woman knows what is going to happen and like Cassandra, none of the people around her who could do something about it believe her or if they do they set out to make her look crazy.

By the third film, it goes from gaslighting into victim blaming. As a woman, Ripley should know better than to tempt men by showing up on a planet when her pod crashes. Ultimately, these movies are a really good lesson and reminder of the patriarchy.

One of the things that I was not prepared for was how much disability representation there was. I’ve seen all four of these films previously, but it’s been so long that I didn’t even remember there was any type of disabled characters at all. Color me surprised when not only Alien III features a disabled character in a significant role, as well as another different character with a different disability in Alien: Resurrection.

It was the 1990s for both of these films so neither of these actors, both of whom were men, were played by actors with their actual disabilities. This is par for the course for the 90s. But what I find most interesting is that the stories themselves are not always ableist. Despite ableism being rampant in the 1990s in television and film, at least one depiction, that of Dom Vriess (Dominique Pinon), is actually not very ableist at all.

Personally, I consider the storyline ahead of its time. Dom is a member of the mercenary crew and the primary engineer of the Betty. They essentially have been delivering kidnapped civilians to the military who are not only trying to clone Ripley, but also to use her DNA to alter the aliens, who they are keeping in their isolated lab station. Of course, the aliens get loose.

Dom uses a tricked out wheelchair and has some cool accommodation features that let him use his chair better in space like a tank wheelchair. At one point, he has to abandon his chair and he is strapped to one of the other team members. He is able to use his guns and help defend them. At one point he also has to hang on by his arms showing his massive arm strength.

Ultimately, Dom survives, fighting his way to safety with the rest of the crew. He is one of the few that survives and while his disability is not emphasized especially in harmful ways, it is also not ignored. He is accommodated and included. It’s a really great representation for the 1990s, and if they inevitably decide to remake this franchise, I hope they hire an actual wheelchair user.

The other character in Alien III is a bit more complicated. There are aspects of his life that are ahead of their time but the other characters are ableist towards him because of his disability. That being said, I never feel like the ableism is seen as acceptable.

The character is named Francis Aaron, and he is second in command on a prison colony that is kept away from the rest of the world. The prisoners there refer to him as 85. You later learn that he is called that because someone read his file and discovered that is his IQ. I personally find it interesting that they would give someone society generally considers disabled intellectually a high level job where he is second in command at a prison colony, but that also could be seen as possibly punishment for being disabled.

I’m going off of the model we have the most on television when it comes to intellectual disability where intellectually disabled people are seen as incapable. So with that in mind, to have such a high level job is a huge deal. In the future, apparently you can be second in command somewhere if you are intellectually disabled. Additionally, Francis talks about how to get home. At the end of the day all of his actions are motivated by the fact that he’s in a committed relationship with a family. He says he is married. He says he is a father.

Again, these are things that we don’t typically see intellectually disabled people being allowed to have in most movies. Instead, most characters are rendered asexual. He’s already not because he has said that he has a wife, and  that he cares enough about her that he wants to return home to her. He also wants to get home to his children. Intellectually disabled people are often looked down upon for having children.

The most ableist part of the movie is them calling him 85 and acting like he’s not as smart as them. At the end of the day, he ends up contacting the company because he thinks it’s the only way he will be able to get out safely and come home to his family. Ultimately, Francis is a family man and he wants to get home to them. Unfortunately he ends up dying thanks to the company that was supposed to save him. It’s really sad because you want him to get home to his family. I don’t like that he contacted the company, but I do understand that he thought he was doing what was right.

Unlike many of the other people who do things like this, Francis was not nefarious. He was actually good at his job as second in command and he followed the commander well until the commander was killed and he was promoted to commander. Again, I don’t know too many disabled people with any type of disability who are allowed to be the commanders of any type of colony, even if it’s a prison colony. Honestly I don’t know any.

While the disability representation in the Aliens franchise is not perfect, tenets of inclusion, accommodation, and representation were ahead of their time. While I can’t wait to keep watching the series to see if there is any more representation I am missing, I was pleasantly surprised to find that I was not angry at either of these characters or their depictions.

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