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Friday Five: 5 of the Best... GRRRLS IN SPACE!

We're declaring "Friday" a day early today, so we can share this space-faring guest post from Club Des Femmes' Selina Robertson and Sophie Mayer, the co-curators of the "Ada & After: Women do Science [Fiction]" festival. The festival starts tonight and runs across the ICA, Electric Cinema Shoreditch and Hackney Picturehouse. The details are all here and on their Twitter feed at @clubdesfemmes.

Without further ado, let's get to blast-off...

While literary scifi abounds with amazing female-identified astronauts, science fiction onscreen has boasted fewer space heroines. Sure, there’s Ellen Ripley (Alien franchise) and Ellie Arroway (Contact), and their near-clones Elizabeth Shaw (Prometheus) and Ryan Stone (Gravity) – but what lies beyond these big-budget loners? Can science fiction cinema offer the equivalent of Elizabeth Moon’s Heris Serrano, Joanna Russ’ Alyx, or Octavia Butler’s Lilith Iyapo, or even just an astrofemme film that passes the Bechdel Test? Not so far: but the last few years have seen a spate of quirky, gorgeous low-budget films reflecting (and inspiring) true stories of grrrls in space. Better yet, you can see them this weekend in London!


Matha, Afronauts (2014)

In 1969, the Zambian government decided that the moon was too important to humanity to be left to the Americans to colonise – so they set up their own space programme. Frances Bodomo’s stunning monochrome tribute to this unlikely but true story was heralded at Sundance this year. Her afronaut is quiet, watchful and determined Matha, a 17 year old girl with albinism (played by supermodel Diandra Forrest), whose cat goes along for the spectacular ride…

Lieutenant Uhura, Star Trek – and Mae C. Jemison, No Gravity

Uhura’s calm in the face of innumerable communication crises, her commitment to peace and her formidable glass ceiling-shattering inspired Astronaut Barbie – but, more importantly, a generation of young American women. Among those inspired to study STEM subjects in the hopes of going to space was astronaut Mae C. Jemison, who applied to NASA after Nichelle Nichols, who played Uhura, came to talk at her university. Jemison and Nichols tell their stories to wannabe astronaut Silvia Casalino in No Gravity (2011), which also tells the story of…

Valentina Tereshkova

The first woman to have flown in space came from the first nation to have female combat pilots – you can see the story of one of them, Nadezhda Petrovna, in Larisa Shepitko’s film Wings, made 3 years after Tereshkova’s 1963 ascent to the stars in Vostok 6. Her status as a national hero has remained intact through all the changes of government in Russia, and she has a crater on the far side of the moon named after her. She’s far less well known in the West than Russia’s other top female cosmonaut, Laika the Space Dog.

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Anousheh Ansari, Sepideh – Reaching for the Stars (2014)

In 2006, Ansari became only the fourth Iranian – and first Iranian women – to visit space. The founder of Prodea Systems and the Ansari X Prize, she sounds like a character from William Gibson’s wildest dreams, but she’s very real. As Space Ambassador, her flight inspired many, including a teenage Iranian girl called Sepideh, whose astronomical (in both senses) dream of becoming an astronaut (and her life-changing letter to Ansari) is revealed in Berit Madsen’s documentary.

Barr, Zoinx and Zylar, Codependent Lesbian Aliens Seek Same (2011)

Not all grrrls in space are human… Barr, (Cynthia Kaplan), Zoinx (Susan Ziegler) and Zylar (Jackie Monahan) are from Planet Zots, where – they are told – their strong feelings are destroying the atmosphere. Heartbreak and –hardening is required to save the planet! Sent into exile, they arrive in the harsh, alien land of New York’s lesbian dating scene, where the diner’s rotating cheesecake stand is a metaphor for relationships. Not based on a true story. Yet.

"Ada & After: Women Do Science [Fiction]"  is Club des Femmes specially curated film programme, exploring the contribution of women to science & sci fi. Running 20-23 November 2014 at ICA, Hackney Picturehouse and Electric Shoreditch.