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Sanaa Lathan’s role in Alien vs. Predator was a seminal moment in science fiction. And while the film’s historical significance, as well as its role in the revitalization or killing of the franchises, will be probably be debated until we get Alien 5 or Dr. Dre releases Detox.

What is often overlooked is Lathan and her place in science fiction history. While we cheer for the women of color leading sci-fi roles on TV and movies today, let us not forget it was Lathan’s role that helped break the force field that had regulated women of color to support roles in the past.

Lathan has led the way for the likes of Hannah John- Kamen in Killjoys, Kelita Smith in Z Nation, and other women of color to not only star, but carry shows and movies. So as we highlight the 15th anniversary of the Alien vs. Predator release on August 13, let’s celebrate the often overlooked part that Sanaa played in the sci-fi revolution.

Where’d She Come From

When Sanaa Lathan was chosen to helm Alien vs Predator, it wasn’t exactly greeted with open arms. But to her credit, her role provides the few moments of depth, character-building, and a sense of humanity seen in the film. She easily glides from hard-ass adventurer to nurturer without getting pigeonholed. But Sanaa wasn’t an action hero.

Before AVP, she was most known for her role as Monica in Love & Basketball. And outside of her brief role as Blade’s mother in the original movie with Wesley Snipes, she had built a career playing the girlfriend, the sister, and “the pretty one” in various roles across TV and film. She had also built an impressive resume with roles in The Wood, The Best Man, Life, NYPD Blue, Moesha, Brown Sugar and many others.

Hot Girl Summer

While Alien vs. Predator is sci-fi, it is also action, and summer is when Hollywood tends to throw out their big action blockbusters. So not only was Sanaa being tapped to lead the movie, she was also being tossed into a summer opening.

In summer 2004, Alien vs. Predator faced some stiff competition in the action space: the Greek epic Troy starring Brad Pitt and Eric Bana, Matt Damon’s The Bourne Supremacy ,Will Smith’s sci-fi action flick I Robot, and more. But like her character and Ripley before her, it wasn’t about big guns or brawn; it was about surviving, and after summer was done, AVP ended up amongst the top 20 of summer films of that year.

Big Boots To Fill

Where the Predator franchise was a sci-fi and gun action flick, Alien was a sci-fi horror slash thriller whose hero was a then-relatively unknown actress named Sigourney Weaver. Her portrayal of Ripley would change the way women were seen in science fiction, as her character was not the damsel in distress.

Ripley would survive being on a ship with a homicidal android and an alien that systematically kills her entire crew before she was able to escape. She is found floating in space 50 years later, and gets asked to return to the same planet with a unit of space marines to check on a colony. There she saves Newt, the lone survivor, and learns how to use the marines’ weapons. She also saves the few soldiers that survived the overrun colony and kills an alien queen using a forklift power suit.

It isn’t farfetched to say that Sigourney Weaver might have been the first, serious female sci-fi action hero (no shots to Barbarella). So when Alien vs Predator was casting, the choice of Sanaa Lathan cannot be overstated. Sanaa’s character, Alex Woods was an arctic guide whose father taught her everything and having spent several seasons on the ice herself she was regarded as one of the best in the field. So when billionaire Weyland wanted to go to one of the most remote parts of the Arctic they wanted her.

What Lathan has done has led to movies and shows that prove the universe can be a diverse place where men and women are equals and the world will support it.

Alien vs. Predator: A Look Back on How Sanaa Lathan’s Pivotal Role Changed Sci-Fi for Women of Color  was originally published on