Did ‘Thelma & Louise’ move the needle for female-led films?

Author: APFri, 2017-09-01 03:00ID: 1504212294487327100NEW YORK: When Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon clasped hands, stepped on the gas and flew over the canyon ridge in that memorable ending to “Thelma & Louise,” many in Hollywood believed they were launching more than that turquoise Thunderbird.It was 1991, and the expectation — or at least the hope — was that they were also launching a new era for women in movies, an era in which it would be easier to get films made with meaty female lead roles, and in which female filmmakers would find it easier to get work.It did not happen, says Thelma herself.“It has not changed at all,” says Davis, who in the intervening quarter-century has become an activist for diversity in Hollywood, focusing especially on gender bias. “We never seem to get any momentum going.”In fact, she says, things actually have not gotten better since the 1940s. “Our research shows the ratio of male to female characters in film has not changed since 1946,” Davis said in an interview, referring to studies by the nonprofit research group she launched, the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media.More than a quarter-century after ‘Thelma & Louise” became a hit, the film remains an anomaly rather than a ground-breaker in terms of women’s roles in Hollywood. A group of studies — including one from the institute started by one of the movie’s stars, Geena Davis, to expose gender bias — show that movies are still dominated by men, onscreen and behind the camera. So what about “Wonder Woman,” the mega-hit that has shattered glass ceilings, turned Gal Gadot into a superstar and earned the top global haul for a live-action film directed by a woman? Davis remains skeptical. “Look, there was ‘Hunger Games,’ there was ‘Frozen,’ even ‘Star Wars’ with a female lead… and now ‘Wonder Woman.’ You figure, ‘We’re done!’” she says.“But we have to wait for the data. It’s been a quarter-century since ‘Thelma & Louise’ and nothing’s changed. I know it WILL change, but to say this is the exact moment — well, you’ll have to prove it to me.”Also in the skeptical camp: screenwriter Callie Khouri. Her tale of that fateful journey from Arkansas to the Grand Canyon by Thelma, a timid housewife with a chauvinist husband, and Louise, a hard-bitten waitress with a painful secret, was Khouri’s debut screenplay. And she won the Oscar — the first solo screenwriting Oscar awarded to a woman for an original work in 60 years.But a turning point for women? “Yeah, that did not happen,” says Khouri, with bitter humor. “I am still waiting.” The rise of “Wonder Woman,” she says, feels like a “tiny little crack” in the ceiling. But, she adds: “You know, it is been a little daunting to see how slowly things actually do change. I can tell you that I, for one, am so sick of the conversation. Why have not things changed for women? I mean, do not ask US!”Twenty-six years after “Thelma & Louise” landed on the cover of Time because of the gender conversation it launched — was it feminist or fascist, inspiring or outrageous? — the film still resonates, and remarkably so, says author Becky Aikman, whose “Off The Cliff,” released this summer, takes a deep dive into the unlikely story of a film that defied the odds merely by getting made. But it was clearly an anomaly, not a launching point, the author says.“I wanted to see how this one made it through the wormhole, in part because it has not happened before or since,” Aikman says. “A lot of people thought at the time, ‘Wow, this movie is so successful, we have got to have more movies like this!’ And then no one did it, which is wildly frustrating, and just shows how entrenched the point of view of Hollywood is … that even a very successful movie did not seem to get people in positions of power to say we should do more like it.”
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