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Thelma and Louise and Set It Off April 3, 2007

Posted by ajaramillo in Set it off, Thelma and Louise.
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While watching Set it Off, I realized how much the influence of Thelma and Louise had on future films and the depiction of female protagonists. As women, Thelma and Louise were outside the sanctioned male power structure from the beginning. Even though Louise may have been justified in shooting Harlan, the law system was still weighted heavily against them because they were not male. Set it Off took this theme of women fighting against a unjust system and added a cast of black females from the inner-city, an underprivileged group that, apart from sexism, had to suffer from racism as well. Both films suggests that the women’s crimes are an understandable, if not justified, reaction of the disadvantaged groups for the dishonor and maltreatment still suffered at the hands of oppressive state and more privileged social groups – whites and males. Set it off and Thelma and Louise both star thieves and robbers that the audience ends up rooting for. Both are as much about friendship and female bonds as they are about crime. Both films examine the women’s motivations and graphically depict the injustices that they face which make them susceptible to the lure of a life of crime. What sets these films apart from the countless other action movies is their message. Set It Off and Thelma and Lousie wonderfully depict the kind of desperation that can result from sexism, poverty and in the former, racism.

While the films have countless similarities, there are two scenes in particular that are of interest to me. In the end of Thelma and Louise, the women found themselves surrounded by police officers near the edge of a cliff atop the Grand Canyon. They decide that instead of turning themselves in, they would drive off the edge of the cliff. In a similar scene in Set It Off, Queen Latifah finds herself surrounded by the LAPD in her car and decides to try and “fight” them, even though she knows it will lead to her death. While the scenes are both strikingly similar, what interested me most was how the women died. While Queen Latifah choose to fight and was riddled with bullets, Thelma and Louise choose to commit suicide. I can’t help but think that the reason why Thelma and Louise did not “fight back” was due in part to Hollywood’s squeamishness at showing two females going up against an army of males. Had Thelma and Louise been males, it was very likely that they would have fought back. Yet Queen Latifah, who was by far the most “masculine” of the women, faced the men head on after convincing her more “feminine” companions to leave her behind. Can Hollywood reconcile the idea of a feminine women going up against men, or will she always have to be masculine and aggressive in order to be convincing? Regardless of the reasoning for the end, they ultimately convey a negative message about the limits of female power within society.

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