Posted by Guest on June 11, 2018 in Blog

By Allison Ulven

The movie Thelma & Louise took the world by storm when it hit theatres. Although controversial at first, it eventually became a classic, with its strong female leads resonating well amongst audiences. The writer of the screenplay, Callie Khouri, used her passion and creativity to be an advocate for women’s rights throughout her life.

Khouri was born November 27,1957, to a Lebanese American doctor and a “southern belle.” She spent her early childhood in San Antonio as an Army brat with her family moving to El Paso before settling in Paducah, Kentucky.  

Tragically, her father died while she was in high school. During this difficult time, she began performing in school plays because she found it hard to be home without her father. After graduating, she went to Purdue University, originally studying landscape architecture before changing her major to drama. Khouri eventually dropped out of college and moved to Los Angeles where she studied at Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute. She quickly realized, however that she did not want to be an actress, stating, “I can’t stand people looking at me.”

In 1985, Khouri took a position as a commercial and music video production assistant, advancing her career in film production. While here, she started writing Thelma & Louise, her first produced screenplay. Thelma & Louise was a film about two friends who embark on a road trip in the mountains when their vacation turns into a “flight from the law.”

Khouri’s Thelma & Louise screenplay won an Academy Award, a Golden Globe, and a PEN Literary Award, and was honored by the Writers Guild of America and the British Academy of Film and Television Arts for “Best Original Screenplay.” It was also recognized by the London Film Critics Circle Award as “Film of the Year.” According to Khouri, writing Thelma & Louise was the “most fun” she had ever had in her life. In an interview with David Konow, she said, “It was such a pure experience. There was no self-censorship there, there was no second guessing. From a creative standpoint, it was the freest I had ever been in my life.”

After the success of Thelma & Louise, Khouri felt motivated to continue her career as a screenwriter and express her frustrations about the “lack of female directors in Hollywood” and the underrepresentation of women in entertainment. In June 2002, she made her debut as a director in Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, which opened at number two in the box office and grossed $73,839,240. Khouri worked with Steven Bochco to create the television series Hollis & Rae in 2006, and two years later, she directed Mad Money, starring Diane Keaton, Queen Latifah, and Katie Holmes.

The entertainment industry was hardly “smooth sailing” for Khouri, however. She always made sure to speak about the injustices she faced in her career. “I feel like I owe aspiring writers at least the warning that they are picking maybe the hardest thing there is to do in the business,” she said. “Don’t you think talking about it is important, making the next generation understand that things are still not right for women?”

In 2012, Khouri developed “ABC’s country music drama series, Nashville,” with her husband, T Bone Burnett, serving as the executive music producer and composer until shortly after the first season.

Today, she continues her career in entertainment as well as advocacy. She was a member of Hollywood Women’s Political Committee and the Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting Women’s Media Watch Project. Alongside writing for Nashville, Khouri currently serves as a “part-time lecturer of theatre arts.” She taught filmmaking at the Athena Film Festival and a class on writing and directing, focusing on Thelma & Louise, at the Arts Initiative at Columbia University. The National Women’s History Museum honored her at the “Women Making History Brunch” for her many awards and accomplishments.

Allison Ulven is a summer 2018 intern at the Arab American Institute.