Thelma and Louise: A Tale of Female Empowerment

Ridley Scott’s Thelma and Louise (1991) has become a significant part of pop culture history. Not only for its unforgettable final scene but also for its groundbreaking feminist undertones. When the pair decides to take a trip in an attempt to escape their mundane roles as housewife and waitress, Thelma is almost raped outside a bar. Louise then rescues her by shooting dead her attacker which leaves them no choice but to go on the run. Considering the narrative stems from the attempted rape of Thelma, the film manifests into a tale of two women discovering their strength and potential in the face of adversity. Like many girls watching the film, I was excited to see female characters portrayed in this way. It was a change from the two-dimensional roles that are usually available to women.

Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis as Thelma and Louise (1991)
Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis as Thelma and Louise (1991)

The film was nominated for six Academy Awards, winning one for best screenplay which was written by Kentucky native Callie Khouri. Khouri developed the movie with director Ridley Scott, who brought us another memorable ass-kicking heroine, Ellen Ripley of the Alien franchise. Khouri wrote the script, motivated by a desire to see more authentic and admirable women portrayed onscreen. In an interview with Dazed magazine, Khouri stated; “Thelma & Louise was a movie I was making because, one, I had never seen a movie that made me feel good about the way the women were represented, and two, it was speaking to issues that were important to me. … I don’t think I realised (how the film would resonate with people), I just knew it was the film I knew I really wanted to see.”

Geena Davis in Thelma and Louise
Geena Davis as Thelma
Susan Sarandon as Louise

Even the choice of clothing for Thelma and Louise hinted at their new found empowerment. When the pair go on the run, their style transforms. They ditch their feminine holiday attire for more of an outlaw/biker look. At the time, the female outlaw was a new and interesting concept, their clothes had to reflect their fearlessness. Thelma and Louise were kitted out in high-waisted mom jeans, bold red lipstick, cowboy boots, cat-eye sunglasses and sleeveless tank tops (with no bra, because fuck the patriarchy!) Instead of trying to make them appear sexy, Thelma and Louise look extraordinarily cool.

Frances McDormand, Jodie Foster, Michelle Pfeiffer, Meryl Streep and Goldie Hawn were among those considered for the role but I really don’t think anyone could have perfected the characters like Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon did. Their authentic portrayal of female friendship gave the film a certain level of charm despite its bleak narrative. The second Louise put her foot on that accelerator, driving that bright blue Thunderbird off the edge of the Grand Canyon, they took their fate into their own hands. An ultimate act of resistance. Thelma and Louise is in my opinion, a monumental feminist piece that I feel has yet to be rivaled.

I’d love to hear what everyone else thinks, so if you have any thoughts on the film, let me know what you think in the comments section!

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