“Let's keep on goin'”
Thelma and Louise stars call for more female protagonists
For the fifth of the Kering and Festival de Cannes Women in Motion Talks, Variety magazine interviewed actors and activists Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon. They expressed a need for non-stereotypical narratives and more women characters.
Twenty-Five years ago they starred in Ridley Scott's film Thelma and Louise. Susan Sarandon remarked that “[Ridley] made us heroic by the way he shot it” because it was a film “where [two women] had power and where [they] had choices.”
The movie defied the notion of women as only girlfriends, mothers and wives and, said Geena Davis, “caused a big stir that we were totally unprepared for.” Nevertheless, Sarandon chimed, “we weren’t making a feminist film; we were making a buddy film.” With the release and initial reception of the iconic picture (whose last line is the title of this piece) they thought this could reshape the way women were portrayed in films, but it did not have an immediate or lasting effect.
This is true, Davis reminded us, of many films over the past 25 years: “Hunger Games was supposed to change everything; Mamma Mia was supposed to change everything.” Although these movies did not have a large impact on the entertainment industry overall, they did stir a change among viewers. After the release of Brave and Hunger Games in 2012, “the number of young girls competing in archery grew dramatically.”
A powerful representation of women on screen “makes it familiar and makes it something that women want to aspire to and that men accept more,” said Davis, who has founded the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media. These images “have a tremendous impact,” and she believed that “we don’t have to sneak up on it.”
Davis encouraged screenwriters to change male characters to female, noting that we frequently default to men, when the role can be interpreted by a woman.
Sarandon noted the female comedians coming onto the scene and re-shaping on-screen representation. She pointed out how powerful and influential Melissa McCarthy and Amy Poehler are: “We’ve been very lucky to see them.”
Though more can be done to take advantage of the power of the image, the two actors encouraged perseverance. Sarandon said that despite challenges, “If that’s what you want to do, then you’re going to have to fight for it.”