Jenette Goldstein's search for Vasque in Aliens

28 December 2023
In the pantheon of iconic science fiction films, James Cameron's 1986 masterpiece "Aliens" holds a revered place. Among its ensemble of memorable characters, Private Vasquez, portrayed by Jenette Goldstein, stands out for her toughness and resilience. Goldstein's performance as Vasquez is not only noteworthy for its on-screen impact but also for the unique backstory that influenced her approach to the role.

Before auditioning for "Aliens", Goldstein encountered an amusing yet telling misinterpretation. She initially believed that the film was about illegal human aliens, a misunderstanding that led her to adopt a particular appearance for the audition. Goldstein, who is of Jewish descent, dressed as what she imagined would be a fitting look for a film about 'illegal aliens' whereas as other would-be actors were in military fatigues.

Interestingly, and almost unbelievably "Aliens" itself acknowledges this misinterpretation through a meta-reference. In a line delivered by the character Corporal Hicks (Bill Paxton), he quips, "Somebody said 'alien,' she thought they said 'illegal alien' and signed up!" This line not only adds a layer of humor to the film but also subtly nods to Goldstein's initial misunderstanding, blurring the lines between the actor’s real-life experience and the fictional narrative.

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This introduction to Jenette Goldstein's journey with "Aliens" sets the stage for a deeper exploration into her portrayal of Vasquez, the cultural and social implications of her casting, and the broader discussion about representation and identity in Hollywood.

Background to becoming Vasque

Before delving into her role in "Aliens", it's crucial to understand Jenette Goldstein's career trajectory. Prior to her breakthrough in "Aliens", Goldstein was relatively unknown in the film industry. Her journey as an actor began with theater, showcasing a range of abilities that extended beyond the tough, soldier archetype she would later become famous for. Goldstein's early career, marked by its versatility, set the stage for her unexpected casting in a science fiction blockbuster.

The casting process for "Aliens" was as unique as the film itself. Director James Cameron sought actors who could bring authenticity and depth to their roles, particularly for the character of Private Vasquez. The role demanded an actor who could portray the strength and endurance of a seasoned marine, yet imbue the character with a sense of humanity and relatability. Goldstein, upon hearing about the auditions, decided to try her luck, albeit under a misconception about the film's subject matter.

Private Jenette Vasquez is one of the Colonial Marines in "Aliens", a sequel to Ridley Scott's 1979 film "Alien". Vasquez is characterized by her toughness, unwavering bravery, and her willingness to face formidable extraterrestrial creatures. As a woman in a predominantly male squad, she stands out not only for her gender but also for her fierce independence and combat skills. The character of Vasquez broke new ground in the portrayal of women in science fiction, offering an image of strength and resilience that was, at the time, rarely seen in the genre.

The background of Jenette Goldstein and her character in "Aliens" provides a foundation for understanding the layers of complexity in her portrayal of Vasquez. Goldstein's career, the unique casting process, and the groundbreaking nature of the Vasquez character all contribute to a richer appreciation of her role in the film and its significance in the wider context of science fiction cinema.

The Misinterpretation and Its Influence

The story of Jenette Goldstein’s audition for "Aliens" is marked by a humorous yet significant misinterpretation. Believing the film to be about illegal human aliens, Goldstein decided to present herself as what she imagined the film required - a stereotypical Mexican. This initial misunderstanding was not just a simple mix-up; it influenced her approach to the character in a profound way. Goldstein's preparation for the role was shaped by this misconception, leading her to adopt a physical appearance and demeanor that she believed would be appropriate for a film about human immigrants.

Goldstein's misinterpretation significantly influenced the development of her character, Vasquez. Her initial preparation under the belief that she was auditioning for a film about 'illegal aliens' added layers to her portrayal of Vasquez. The character emerged as not just a tough marine, but as someone with a distinct identity and background, which may not have been as pronounced had Goldstein not had her initial misunderstanding. This added depth to Vasquez, making her more than just a soldier; she became a character with a rich, albeit implied, backstory.

The context of the 1980s, when "Aliens" was produced, plays a crucial role in understanding the impact of Goldstein's interpretation. During this time, Hollywood was far less sensitive to issues of race and ethnicity in casting. The decision to cast Goldstein, a white actress, as a Latina character and the subsequent altering of her appearance to fit a certain ethnic profile reflects the industry's practices and attitudes of the era. This situation invites discussion about the representation of ethnic minorities in Hollywood and the evolution of such practices over time.

The Meta Reference in "Aliens"

A notable moment in "Aliens" that resonates with an added layer of humor and irony is the line delivered by Private Hudson, played by Bill Paxton. He says, "Somebody said 'alien,' she thought they said 'illegal alien' and signed up!" This line serves as a direct nod to Jenette Goldstein's initial misunderstanding about the film's subject matter. It bridges the gap between the real-world context of Goldstein's audition and the fictional world of "Aliens", creating a unique meta-commentary.

The inclusion of this line in the film can be seen as a clever piece of meta-commentary by the filmmakers. It acknowledges the reality behind the casting of Vasquez and winks at the audience with an insider joke. This line cleverly blurs the lines between the actor's real-life experience and the fictional narrative of the film, adding a layer of depth to the character of Vasquez. It also demonstrates the filmmakers' awareness of the casting choice and its implications, subtly addressing the issue within the narrative itself.

At the time of the film's release, audiences might have perceived this line as a simple piece of humor without knowing the backstory. However, in retrospect, knowing Goldstein's initial misinterpretation, this line takes on new significance. It has been subject to various interpretations by fans and critics alike. For some, it adds a layer of authenticity and relatability to Vasquez's character. For others, it's a moment that highlights the broader issues of racial and ethnic representation in Hollywood, particularly in the 1980s.

A reflection of Representation and Casting Practices

To fully understand the casting of Jenette Goldstein as Vasquez in "Aliens", it's important to contextualize it within Hollywood's casting practices of the 1980s. This era in film history was not particularly known for its sensitivity or accuracy in racial and ethnic representation. Roles often were not cast with a priority on authenticity regarding the character's background. 

I'll give some food for thought: Breakfast at Tiffany's - Mikey Rooney

This broader context sheds light on why Goldstein, a white actress, was cast to play a Latina character, a decision that would likely be questioned under today's standards.

Goldstein’s portrayal of Vasquez involved altering her appearance to fit a Latina stereotype, a practice commonly referred to as "brownface". This decision, while not widely criticized at the time, has since become a point of contention. The use of brownface is now recognized as a form of cultural appropriation and is considered disrespectful to the represented community. It undermines the opportunities for actors from those communities to portray characters of their own ethnicity, contributing to a lack of diversity and representation in the media.

The standards of racial sensitivity and representation in Hollywood have evolved significantly since the 1980s. There is a growing emphasis on authentic representation and casting actors who genuinely represent the characters' ethnic and cultural backgrounds. This shift reflects a broader societal awareness of the importance of diversity and accurate representation in the media. The casting of Goldstein as Vasquez in "Aliens" serves as a historical example of how far the industry has come in terms of these practices.

Impact and Legacy

Jenette Goldstein's own reflections on her role as Vasquez in "Aliens" offer valuable insights into her understanding and perspective on the casting decision and its implications. Over the years, Goldstein has spoken about the experience, shedding light on her initial audition, preparation for the role, and the reaction to her portrayal of a Latina character. Her thoughts provide a personal dimension to the discussion, illustrating how an actor navigates the complexities of representation and character embodiment in their craft.

The backstory of Goldstein's initial misunderstanding and the subsequent portrayal of Vasquez had a significant impact on the character's reception and legacy. Vasquez became a trailblazer for strong female characters in science fiction, challenging gender stereotypes and inspiring a generation of characters that followed. The nuances added to her character, stemming from Goldstein's approach, contributed to making Vasquez more than just a token tough female; she became a symbol of strength, resilience, and defiance against typecasting in a genre often dominated by male characters.
Legacy in Film History

The character of Vasquez, and Goldstein’s portrayal of her, holds a special place in film history. It represents a moment in time when Hollywood's practices were different, and yet, it also stands as an example of a character that broke molds and defied expectations. The discussion around Vasquez and Goldstein’s portrayal of her continues to be relevant, serving as a case study in the evolution of representation in cinema. The role of Vasquez in "Aliens" remains a significant reference point in discussions about female representation, diversity, and casting practices in Hollywood.


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About the author Jimmy Jangles

My name is Jimmy Jangles, the founder of The Astromech. I have always been fascinated by the world of science fiction, especially the Star Wars universe, and I created this website to share my love for it with fellow fans.

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