I wanted to expand a little bit on a tweet I made the other day about aliens in science fiction movies. There’s an opportunity in these movies to explore western society’s fears about immigration amongst Earth’s peoples (immigrants referred to as aliens), but most movies don’t seem to do this.

Most movies about aliens see them as invaders and earthlings as the heroes, defending the homeland. My friend Brian pointed out to me these movies (and fears) aren’t about immigration but colonialism. The aliens aren’t looking to join us, they’re looking to conquer us. It’s a great point, and I think it matches up with fears many people hold about immigration, but I think it’s weak of screenwriters to pander to these fears instead of exploring them.

Science fiction is a lens we use to see ourselves and our current world, it’s a way to extrapolate and play “what if?” and see more sides to our lives than we currently see today. In stories like A Brave New World and Nineteen Eighty Four, fears of oppression through technology were explored, not celebrated.

But in many of today’s alien-related movies, the fears of being taken over by aliens are reinforced, not examined. We’ve got our guns and we’re the heroes, nobody’s gonna take our land from us, we say. Why don’t we have more movies where oh, I don’t know, the aliens aren’t invaders but are refugees? Or where the hero says “Wait, hold on, are we sure they’re actually invading? Shouldn’t we learn from them before we start blowing them up?” Whether or not people really do think immigrants are invaders looking to oppress us, it’s cowardly for alien films to not examine this.

There are a few good examples, though. District 9 is particularly on the nose about aliens with a refugee status; there are humans who see those aliens as invaders, but those humans are portrayed as villains. E.T. has aliens not as invaders or as refugees, but as explorers who wish to learn. True, E.T. is a visitor, but he’s also explicitly not an invader. Despite naming the titular alien a “xeno-morph,” the movie Alien is a lot more about sexual predation than it is about invasion (the face-huggers and chest-bursters are not so subtle allusions to rape and its unwanted consequences). I’ve heard good things about Alien Nation about immigration, but I can’t personally vouch for it. And I’m sure it’s explored better in science fiction literature, too.

Immigration is a vital topic to pretty much everyone on this planet, yet fears of it are pandered to and reinforced in science fiction movies all the time.

PS: Yeah, maybe actual contact with actual extra terrestrials wouldn’t go so hot. They’d almost certainly be of vastly different intelligence, technical prowess, hell, even body chemistry (microbial exchanges alone could easily destroy us). They may not be violent invaders (that’s probably a reflection on our own evolution and history than it is on theirs), but they’d definitely have arisen from some form of natural selection, originally. But movies with “alien invasions” are hardly about presenting scientific reality, and that’s OK. An alien movie where they come here and we all get alienpox and die probably isn’t telling a very good story.

PS: Yeah, it’s also problematic to have actual aliens represent humans from different countries. Showing them as wholly different, often monstrously so, reinforces views that “aliens are other” which doesn’t help anybody.

Speed of Light