This year marks twenty five years since the release of Thelma and Louise so what better way to mark it than to watch it with my three daughters. I was twenty six when I first watched this, so that’s half my lifetime ago. I remember at the time loving it because it put women at the centre of the action, it was funny, the two stars were engaging, the cinematography was beautiful and there was a thrill in identifying with characters who didn’t do what they were told. Now, at 51, I can see that this film is even more than that.
Interestingly, Thelma and Louise was originally promoted as a comedy, perhaps for fear of scaring away an audience not used to such a film. You can see the original trailer here – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2iBFmKlO4BY – and it portrays the film as a fun and jaunty escapade by two crazy chicks.
Watching it 25 years ago, I remember feeling uneasy at the journey the women took into crime. Part of me wanted it to all be made alright, surely in a Hollywood movie there would be a way to fix it all, a way for the kind cop to protect them against an unfair world? But of course what the story shows us is how the unfairness of their world permeates everything because they exist in a patriarchy that doesn’t recognise how much it discriminates.
What Thelma and Louise do is refuse to pull their head in and suck it up. Most women know what it’s like to be sexually harassed in some way, from catcalls from passing cars and building sites to guys masturbating in front of you on public transport or the coworker who fondles you in a stair well. We are taught to not make a fuss, to be nice about it, put our heads down and walk away, to not walk down that street or be alone with that person. We learn to change our own behaviour and it takes great courage to refuse to do that. For Thelma and Louise, they know that there will be no easy justice for them, that they will be blamed for their behaviour as if the responsibility for their safety rests only with themselves.
A week or so ago I read an insightful article on Medium by Dominique Matti Why Erykah Badu’s Opinion is Dangerous. Responding to a well-publicised tweet from the singer that school girls should wear their skirts to knee length so as not to distract the boys, Matti describes why this attitude is dangerous to the wellbeing of girls and women and how prevalent it is, how it perpetuates a culture that tells “girls that men can’t help themselves around them (or that it’s more difficult for them to help themselves than it is for girls to hide themselves).”
So at 51 I can see the breathtaking affirmation that Thelma and Louise make to not allow themselves to be controlled. They mimic the role of male heroes in action films where the baddies are dispatched with resolution, with explosions and wisecracks. At the time it was thought that the success of Thelma and Louise would change everything, that there would be female buddy films galore with meaty roles for women. Sadly this was not the case.
Bechdel test – pass