Today marks the 20th anniversary of the release of one of the more controversial movies of its time. Was it female empowerment, or man bashing? ---
Thelma & Louise opened on May 24, 1991, and instantly became a critically acclaimed, but polarizing, film. Directed by Ridley Scott from a script that won an Oscar for writer Callie Khouri, it told the story of the titular pair of friends (Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon) who attempt a cross-country flight to Mexico after Louise shoots and kills a man who's attempting to sexually assault Thelma. Of course, as anyone who knows the iconic final shot knows, they don't quite get to their destination.
Aside from introducing the world to the washboard abs of a young actor named Brad Pitt, Thelma & Louise became best known for its polarizing effect on audiences and commentators. While it became a rallying cry for many women, essays appeared all over the place; in a June 1991 Time magazine feature titled "Is This What Feminism Is All About?", writer Margaret Carlson wondered what it meant that the way for women to be empowered was to act like "any other shoot-first-and-talk-later [male] action heroes."
In a 2010 interview, Khouri acknowledged the influence of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid on her screenplay. "We don't really know what women's 'real nature' is, because there are so many rules ... so many definitions," Khouri said, "and very few of them have to do with ultimate freedom. The outlaw movie is something that speaks to that in men and women." When Thelma & Louise spoke, it was clear that plenty of people were listening -- even if they didn't like what they heard.