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Thelma and Louise: in 20 years, Has Anything Changed?

Thelma and Louise: in 20 years, Has Anything Changed?

Thelma and Louise debuted twenty years ago, in 1991. The movie received six Academy Award nominations, including Best Actress nominations for both Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon, and won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.

Thelma (played by Davis) is a passive housewife married to a controlling husband who isn’t ready to have children. Louise (played by Sarandon) is a single independent waitress. The two friends plan to take off for a weekend and they set off in Louise’s convertible. On their first night away, a man they run into at a bar tries to rape Thelma and Louise shoots him. They then take off in their car, trying to escape to Mexico, have a variety of adventures along the way, and eventually end up [spoiler alert!] driving off a cliff to avoid being aprehended by the police.

The movie was both applauded and criticized by feminists, the media and academia. A Time Magazine article from 1991 looks at two sides of this:

Women cheer the movie because it finally turns the tables on Hollywood, which has been too busy making movies about bimbos, prostitutes, vipers and bitches and glamourizing the misogynists who kill them to make a movie like Thelma & Louise.

As a bulletin from the front in the battle of the sexes, Thelma & Louise sends the message that little ground has been won. For these two women, feminism never happened. Thelma and Louise are so trapped that the only way for them to get away for more than two days is to go on the lam. They become free but only wildly, self-destructively so — free to drive off the ends of the earth.

I was fifteen years old when the movie was released; a budding woman and feminist. Although the movie is fiction, I feel like it taught me a lot about the real world. It taught me that I can run, but I cannot escape. It taught me to be wary of men, both the nice ones and the jerks. It taught me that I have choices, but sometimes none of them are good.

While the film taught me a lot of not so nice things about our patriarchal world, it also motivated me to be part of a movement to raise awareness and fight for change. Thelma and Louise was a part of my journey to becoming a feminist.

Has anything changed in those 20 years? We have not rid the world of controlling men. We still live in a rape culture. Women still face way too many imperfect choices. Are we making progress? I hope so. One day, I would like to show the movie to my daughter as a piece of historical interest, not as a reflection of her reality.

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Photo credit: http://www.allocine.fr/film/fichefilm_gen_cfilm=6787.html via wikimedia

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64 comments

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7:15AM PST on Feb 1, 2013

I am not a feminist, but this movie deals with some very important issues about equality that we still are dealing with today. As a man, I get sick to my stomach thinking about what many women have to go through on a day to day basis. So I agree on the feminist message of the film.

The friendship thing? As near as I can tell Louise shot a man, and for quite a time after that she took Thelma with her even though Thelma did nothing wrong for the first part of the film. If she was a friend, wouldn't she instead tell Thelma that she was not responsible for the crime, so there is no reason she should be dragged into it any further? Thelma was consistently the victim in this film. She was almost raped. Then, her best friend decides that dragging thelma further into it is better then doing the right thing and letting her go. Would it have been risky to do that? Yes. If Louise cared enough for Thelma would she not take that risk? I think she probably would. Im sure im missing something, but thats how I see it.

9:40PM PDT on Aug 2, 2011

ONLY FEMINISTS SHOULD BE VOTING -- OTHERWISE YOU DON'T UNDERSTAND. One of my all-time favorite movies .... and perfect casting.

3:55AM PDT on Jun 26, 2011

The ending is great! Dawn, it's a metaphor.

9:34PM PDT on Jun 17, 2011

I've never seen the movie,have no interest.But I think you're reading too much into it.It's just a stupid movie.Not having seen it,but having heard about the ending-they drive off a cliff-it really does sound stupid.Come on.Sounds like a dumb ending to me.

6:37AM PDT on Jun 15, 2011

A movie is a movie. I enjoyed the cast, female and male.

7:13AM PDT on Jun 14, 2011

Yes.. there has not been much change and it seems to me that the younger generation, meaning many younger women don't understand that just because they are sexually free they have freedom !

3:49PM PDT on Jun 13, 2011

I agree with Lisa B. about the film being more about friendship and sticking togetehr through thick and thin. There is a strong feminist message in the film, but it's not preachy and doesn't dtract from thefilm's sentiment. Sadly, I think there hasn't been much as much change as hoped for and if the GOP/tea-party monster has its way women will have no rights at all and any gains made in the context of women's rights will be completely erased.

1:26PM PDT on Jun 13, 2011

I think the movie is more about best friends coming together.

10:05AM PDT on Jun 13, 2011

tHIS WAS AGOOD MOVIE WITH GREAT ACTRESSES AND A CLASSIC!

iF YOU TEACH CHILDREN TO RESPECT THEMSELF AND TAKE RESPONSABILITY FOR THEIR ACTIONS THEN THIS WORLD WILL BE A BETTER PLACE!

7:38AM PDT on Jun 13, 2011

In this movie, the women made choices and stuck by them. It's up to women today to make choices, and stick by them...the means to uphold these choices are available. It takes a lot of nerve and will power, but -- it's your choice to take it for all it's worth or leave it and suffer the consequences.

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