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Thelma and Louise Turns 20

by Melissa Silverstein
May 25, 2011 2:30 AM
6 Comments
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I can't believe that it is 20 years since Thelma and Louise was released. We still have so much work to do. This is a movie that resonated with people in a profound way, it's a movie that people still think about fondly, yet sadly it is a movie that never effected any long term change for women in Hollywood.

Where are the characters that came after Thelma and Louise? Where are the women? This is a significant anniversary for women in film. Everyone remembers what they felt when they saw this movie for the first time (aside from how cute Brad Pitt was.) Share your memories of Thelma and Louise what has changed for women in film since then and what hasn't.

I wrote a piece several months ago about what could have been and pondering why things haven't changed. Here's some of it:

Thelma and Louise came out in May of 1991 and change was in the air. The film touched a raw nerve in women that had been lying dormant during the Reagan backlash years. It became a cultural touchstone, was on covers of magazines, and got both Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon Academy Award nominations. Geena Davis tells stories of women seeing her on the road and honking at her and thanking her for the film. But here we are 20 years later and it feels like that film was never made.

Where are the Thelma and Louise type movies today? Why weren’t there movies made in its wake? Why didn’t studios get women writers to create more characters like Thelma and Louise? Is it about the power that they had? Is the culture really that afraid of women?

I don’t get it and neither does Khouri who said answered a question about why we have never seen these types of characters again. (This is part of a larger interview with Khouri that will be published in the upcoming In Her Voice: Interview with Female Directors)

It’s a strange thing. I kind of thought this would really help. The response to this movie was overwhelming both positive and negative. Looking back, you could say its impression was indelible. And yet, I can’t point to a lot of other movies that have really followed in its footsteps.


To me folks, that is the question. Why didn’t we build on Thelma and Louise? It feels like we have spent the 20 years since losing power for women onscreen. The opportunity was ripe in 1991 and now in 2011 it feels in some respects like we are back at the starting gate.

Here are some pieces celebrating the anniversary:
'Thelma and Louise' stepped on the gas of feminism 20 years ago; today, they'd drive over that cliff all over again (Cleveland Plain Dealer)

Looking Back On 'Thelma & Louise' 20 Years Later (NPR)

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6 Comments

  • Sergio | June 2, 2011 1:05 AMReply

    I've always thought that ending was bullshit. It makes no sense that they would kill themselves. Believe me if the film was about two men the final shot of the film would have been them driving off down the highway to freedom.

    It was a cop-out ending telling women "Yeah go ahead and be empowered BUT so only far."

    And by the way why not all the fuss for Coffy or Foxy Brown? In my opinion those are films that are WAY more empowering than T &L which to me is overrated anyway. I think people who think the film was so revolutionary have led a very sheltered life

  • Katherine Bowman | May 27, 2011 5:02 AMReply

    I was only three years old when the movie came out, so I didn't actually see it until a few years ago. I now own it and share it with as many people as I can. No, we haven't really seen these characters again, but I think we will see them soon. I think that stories are changing in a positive way. Women are taking more charge of the storytelling process than ever before. We just have to keep supporting the female stories that are being made so that the studios know what we want to see is worth making.

  • Joy | May 27, 2011 4:55 AMReply

    My biggest sadness selling my car was that my bumper sticker that said, "Caution: Thelma and Louise on board!" had to go with it....

  • An African | May 26, 2011 5:13 AMReply

    @patricia, i remember a rumour at the time that a different ending where they gave themselves up was shot, but test audiences hated it so we got the cliff shot instead.

    Personally i like this ending and I adore this film

  • Liz | May 26, 2011 4:30 AMReply

    I always think of "Thelma and Louise" whenever I hear about some development being called a game-changer for women and film. The excitement and sense of discovery from when T&L first came out are still with me. The idea of a movie in which a *woman* was actually permitted to successfully defend her female friend -- amazing! (I guess it's telling that such a simple plot development should feel so revolutionary, no?)

    When T&L came out I was an editor on a newspaper arts/entertainment desk, and I read a lot of pieces about how this movie was totally going to change things. But then, nothing.It was as if the industry decided they'd gotten all that out of their system and it was time to get back to business as usual. Incredibly frustrating. It taught me to avoid getting my hopes up every time a game-changer is predicted. Even "Bridesmaids" -- though I sure hope I'll be proved wrong there.

  • Patricia | May 25, 2011 8:47 AMReply

    When they drove off the cliff, it symbolized empowerment. But I still don't like the fact that they decided to kill themselves. The detective (Harvy Kietel) wanted to help them. Yes, Thelma and Louise became empowered and started making their own decisions, which was fantastic. Many women (myself included) often reach a specific point in life when we seriously begin to create our own destiny. But was death the only solution for Thelma and Louise? I don't think so!

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