Even after 30 years Thelma & Louise still an interesting conversation among the audience.
It’s been 30 years since Ridley Scotts Thelma & Louise hit the screen. This 1991 film became a landmark in feminist filmmaking by showing women taking action and creating a better world in which to live, even if it meant fleeing the police in their 1966 Thunderbird.
Geena Davis, who played Thelma in the film, said the press had predicted it would be a big hit that could change everything in Hollywood before its release.
And then nothing.
Well, not really nothing, but not what anyone expected either. Although the film received six Academy Award nominations and helped take Geena Davis, Susan Sarandon, and writer Callie Khouri to new heights in Hollywood, the film received negative reviews. The three women shared their responses to negative reviews during a question-and-answer session while attending a special 30th anniversary drive-in screening at the Greek Theater in Los Angeles, hosted by The Hollywood Reporter Rebecca Keegan.
Thelma & Louise is very similar Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid-Criminals on the run from the law after committing a crime – multiple crimes in the Butch Cassidy case. It’s a fun movie that makes us run in front of the cops, that gives us the imagination to live the life we want while out with our favorite companion.
But the fun of it Thelma & Louise ended for many critics as soon as Thelma showed the .38 caliber pistol.
Callie Khouri has reviewed one critic by name—US News & World Reports John Leo – who described the film as neo-fascist.
Sarandon, who plays Louise in the film, followed up on this comment by mentioning her surprise at the film’s poor reception. “I completely underestimated the fact that we are withdrawing to territories held by white straight men. They were offended and accused us of glorifying murder and suicide and all kinds of things. “
To the Thelma & Luise, an act of self-defense against a man who tried to rape Louise and a few petty crimes got the two women in hot water with some critics. Like a critic in that Los Angeles times, “If women have been allowed to show courage and physical courage, it is usually in crypto-male action roles … but the heroism they project has something closed and stunted about it. They probably satisfy men’s fantasies far more than women’s. Corsetted and caricatured, these heroines can play with the male audience’s unspoken desire to be sexually overwhelmed, since men do not have to take them “seriously” as women.
Action roles are not assigned specific to gender. Rather, there is a character who is written to be one-sided, and if an actor can impersonate that character, then the role is theirs.
An example of this is Sigourney Weaver as Ripley in Extraterrestrial. The role was originally intended for a man, but Weaver was able to portray Ripley exactly how Ridley wanted the character to be. Those who believe action roles are owned by male actors believe that women hold a .38 caliber pistol or crave an adventurous lifestyle because they believe men get aroused. Women want to be taken seriously, but are avoided by those who do not allow them to unfold in action-packed roles.
The problem with this idea of gender type casting is that roles are limited. When women are put in these roles, they are seen as problematic and become the subject of backlash because they want to survive. Hollywood tends to view women as sexy and subject them to a bigger subject. The moment women break off this idea is the moment someone tries to put them back in a tiny box of roles that make them look weak and helpless.
Sarandon continues, “Usually when two women are in a movie you automatically hate each other for some reason.”
Female characters are encouraged to compete with each other in films starring two women, such as Death becomes them. As an audience, we find excitement in women arguing with one another instead of trying to survive and live life for themselves.
Thelma & Louise should have been the beginning of similar feminist films that centralized women turning the tables on men trying to take advantage of them. Also in 2009 the dark horror comedy Jennifer’s body tried to bring to life the idea of women to get revenge on men who oversexualize women, but the film largely flopped until it became a newer cult classic.
In the end, we’re left with a great movie to either love or hate – and it’s okay to hate it, but don’t hate it for what is portrayed by leading women.
I don’t think everyone has a problem with women in action roles, but there are some who have a problem and have a platform to express their problems with. Perhaps it is their prejudice or their subconscious that tells them that men belong in these roles. Whatever the case, knowing that there are people out there with this idea is a good place to start when discussing how we watch movies.
This is not an attempt to turn someone off, but a wake up call that misogyny, no matter how subtle, is not beautiful.
Did you look Thelma & Louise? Let us know your thoughts on the movie and its take on female action leads in the comments below!