In the latest Matriarchy Rising, Jenn Adams examines the enduring relationship between Sidney and Gale in the Scream franchise.
Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) ranks among the highest echelons of horror’s esteemed final girls. Though the title of Scream Queen is usually awarded to Halloween’s Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), Sidney is the anchor of her franchise, appearing in and surviving each Scream film. But standing next to her at the end of each chapter is the often forgotten Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox). Though never given top billing she is just as instrumental to the franchise as its perpetual star, Sidney.
The Scream series is a bit of an anomaly in the horror genre in that it follows the survivors rather than its iconic killer. Ghostface. Michael, Freddy, Jason, and Chucky are the centerpieces of their respective franchises. But Scream’s focus has always been on Sidney and Gale, not to mention fellow survivor Dewey Riley (David Arquette). The two women appear in every film, not just as side characters cast aside in the opening scene. They’re the focal points of each film. To paraphrase another of Wes Craven’s other iconic films, their franchise is into survival.
Though Sidney and Gale would technically be called final girls, they deviate from the classic archetype in another important way: they survive together. Both women are central to the final act of each film, switching off who delivers the killing blow. In fact, none of the Scream films end with a sole survivor. Along with Dewey, they are usually joined by a male character such as Randy Meeks (Jamie Kennedy), Cotton Weary (Liev Schreiber), or Mark Kincaid (Patrick Dempsey).
Though Dewey represents one-third of what has come to be the core Scream team, he is usually not a factor in the film’s climaxes. Often injured or incapacitated before the killer’s reveal, Scream 3 is the only film in which he has a significant role in the final showdown. He provides emotional support to both Gale and Sidney. His connections to law enforcement offer important logistical information. But it’s almost always the two women who lead the charge and finally defeat the killers once and for all.
Gale and Sidney’s first onscreen interaction reveals a troubling history. A year after her mother’s brutal murder, Sidney has mistakenly identified Cotton Weary as the killer. Gale believes that he is innocent and fights to free him. This implies that Sidney is at best confused, and at worst, lying in search of the closure a guilty verdict would bring. The two are combative and their interaction leads to Sidney punching Gale in the face, a cathartic act she will later apologize for.
While they are technically fighting over a man, Cotton Weary is merely the focal point for their difference of opinion and a desire to see justice done. Sidney believes Gale is trying to profit off of her mother’s murder. Gale is frustrated that Sidney refuses to feed her narrative. It’s a refreshing change from the lazy, but unfortunately common trope of pitting female characters against each other for petty reasons. In the first film, Gale and Sidney are both wrong and they are both right, allowed to hold complex and competing motivations at the same time.
Though often at odds, they seamlessly join forces in the film’s final act. After accidentally crashing her news van, Gale returns to the unfolding crime. Though it would be safer for her to run to safety and call for help, her desire to be part of the story is what saves Sidney’s life. Gale twice disrupts Billy and Stu from killing Sidney, providing cover for her to sneak away. Gale is the one to shoot Billy as he attacks Sidney and prepares to deliver the killing blow. The two women are instantly on each other’s side. There’s never a moment where they don’t seem to inherently trust each other. Though their relationship has its ups and downs, the bond they form in surviving together endures throughout the franchise. Their complex and nuanced relationship represents an interesting and inspirational model of female friendship rare in the genre.
Courtesy of Paramount
Scream 2 sees the relationship between the two women become combative again. With Cotton now free, Sidney must reckon with the fact that she was mistaken when she identified him as the killer. While she does this with grace, it’s obviously hard for her to have been so publicly wrong. In her most cynical characterization, Gale is not shy about wanting to exploit the situation for her own gain. This time they are fighting for control of the narrative and the right to tell the story. Sidney wants to recover in privacy while Gale wants vindication for having been right and for saving Cotton’s life. But Gale’s ambition clouds her judgment and she surprises Sidney with what would be an incredibly triggering interview with Cotton.
They join forces again in Scream 2’s final act, though. After the killers have been subdued, an injured Gale asks for one of the two guns Sidney holds. She instantly hands it over implicitly trusting that Gale, though not her closest friend, will be on her side. This stands in contrast to Cotton, an uneasy ally whose own gun she’d just demanded moments ago. Though the film’s climax hinges on Cotton’s loyalty, there’s never a moment where Sidney believes that Gale could be the killer. Even the fleeting moment when she enters the stage before the real second killer never feels particularly convincing. For the remainder of the franchise, the two will continue a friendly if often distant relationship.
The Scream franchise should be commended for another rarity: a nuanced female friendship not based on a romantic relationship. Gale and Dewey have a decades-long love story and each film sees their romance at a different stage. But Dewey is always a big brother of sorts to Sidney, likely seeing her as a substitute for his own sister, Tatum, murdered in the first film. There is never a hint of romance between the two. What’s even more remarkable, Sidney and Gale never fight with each other for Dewey’s affections. Though Gale is occasionally jealous of the attention Sidney receives as the “star,” they never battle for emotional possession of Dewey. He’s never asked to choose to save one over the other. Passing the Bechdel test with flying colors, Scream allows its two female leads to have connections and motivations that don’t revolve around a male character.
Sidney and Gale form one of horror’s strongest matriarchies, both representing different yet equally important facets of the franchise. Sidney is the face of Scream just as Gale is its voice. Time after time, in film after film, Sidney survives. Her narrative arc is inspirational to anyone suffering from PTSD. Through the years, she battles her fear of intimacy and trust honed after constant betrayal and the brutal deaths of friends and loved ones. She’s rarely afraid to confront the killer, bravely walking out onto the porch when first contacted in the original film.
In Scream 2, she attempts to return to the unconscious killer to remove his mask and reveal his identity. In Scream 3, she bursts into a bathroom stall to confront who she believes to be the killer, a reversal of a scene in the first film where she runs from a lurking attacker. Though she briefly isolates herself in Scream 3, it’s to protect those she loves rather than herself. When that proves to be impossible, she confronts her deep-seated fears and travels to Hollywood to join the investigation. Though many characters hide behind the Ghostface mask to target her, Sidney is always steadfastly herself. Her beautiful book, Out of Darkness, shows her face on the cover basking in radiant sunlight. Her journey is one of strength and resilience.
If Sidney represents the physical presence of survival, Gale represents its voice. A writer and reporter by trade, she literally guides the public narrative of the crimes. She shapes media coverage and provides the seminal account through her books. Early in the franchise, her reporting exonerates an innocent man sentenced to death. Later, her sleuthing skills provide crucial information in catching the killers. She is the strongest investigator on the team, always willing to follow her hunchs and insert herself into dangerous situations.
Though her motives may sometimes be questionable, there’s no denying that Gale is equally heroic. And what’s wrong with wanting recognition for her hard work? Yes, Gale is callous and often lets her ambition cloud her judgment. She can also be cruel to those she views as beneath her. Though demonized for these negative characteristics, it’s refreshing to see a nuanced depiction of a woman not afraid to be a “bitch” to get what she wants. Her ambition is constantly criticized throughout the franchise; she’s mocked for simply wanting to be the best at what she does. So what if she also wants to also help herself? Gale’s arc is learning to balance self-interest with the desire to protect others. Aside from the killers, she is the most maligned character of the franchise, but her tenacity, courage, and voice save many lives.
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Sidney and Gale are more than just survivors; they are the essence of a horror matriarchy. They stand in rare company as women who insist on being themselves and constantly overcoming the people who try to destroy them. The silent victim is a perpetual archetype women have been reduced to dating back to the infancy of film. But Sidney refuses to be a victim and Gale refuses to be silent. Their actions are often framed through Dewey because he is the law enforcement liaison and is usually responsible for coordinating early plot details, but Gale and Sidney are the strength of the team.
A matriarchy is a system of power organized around female leadership, but unlike royalty, this system is not necessarily based on blood relations. Sidney and Gale are both effective leaders because they learn to embrace each other’s strengths and support each other in their own unique ways. An ideal matriarchy would be based on the combined strengths of many rather than the dominance of a few. With these two different, but aligned, women standing together, they form a pillar of strength that has survived and inspired for decades.