By Andrea Plaid
“Who?!” you may be asking.
A somewhat fair question, though, like last week’s Crush Kevin Clash, you may know him by the creation he brought to on-screen life:
Bolaji Badejo. Photo: Eve Arnold
Yes, that was a Black man in the original Alien suit. (And a cute one, too!)
Badejo got into the suit by pure happenstance, like latest-white-starlet-found-at-an-eatery chance. In his case, a casting team member from the original film approached the Nigerian graphic-arts student at a London bar and put him in touch with Alien director Ridley Scott. The reason why Scott thought Badejo could work the costume (and won the role over Peter Mayhew, who played Chewbacca): Badejo stood at 7 feet 2 inches and had a “slender” “erect” frame which, being so long-limbed, could “give the illusion that a human couldn’t possibly be in the costume.” Stuntmen also got into it for certain scenes. (For more on how Badejo worked the suit. check this out.)
After this–his only acting role, and this flick came out in 1979–Badajo disappeared from the movie life. What happened to him, according to the ‘net…well, some people (as of 2010) state that he passed away, yet his Facebook page has him alive and living in the States. (I sent a friend request on Facebook. We’ll see.) Nothing has yet confirmed about him.
Looking back on the experience, Badejo said in an 1979 interveiw that, in light of Boris Karloff, Christopher Lee, and other Hollywood stars who gained their fame from playing monsters, he regretted that no one knew it was him in suit, however, he commented, “The fact that I played the part of the Alien, for me, that’s good enough.”
Whenever I watched the Alien movie–and for all of Sigourney Weaver’s woman-with-a-gun girl-power rocking the flick (though the second film basically made it a weirdly racialized Mommy War, with Weaver protecting the orphaned white child as her real reason for getting all gun-happy with the dark-skinned creature–I found my empathies with the Aliens. On the real, Weaver’s crew rolls up on their territory (and if I recall the movies correctly, this is on purpose) and are protecting and trying to feed their offspring. However, whatever the intentions of the crew for being in the Aliens’ side of the universe, the flicks portray their survival as worthy (“don’t let them eat us top-of-the-food-chain types”) and the Aliens’ survival is seen as unworthy, if not outright deserving annihilation. (“That’s what you get for using us top-of-the-food-chain types as your food!”) The fact that the Alien is played by a Black man adds a certain frisson and texture to the original film for me, considering it’s these flicks where fears about colonization, race (and racism!), community, and resources often play out.
Wherever he may be, Badejo is not forgotten. And that’s good enough for me.