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December 27, 1991: “Fried Green Tomatoes” Was Released and Showed Strong Leading Women Like Never Before

Photo: via A.F. archive/Alamy

On December 27, 1991, “Fried Green Tomatoes” was released in movie theaters. Based on Fannie Flagg’s novel, “Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe,” the film and starring Kathy Bates, Mary-Louise Parker, Mary Stuart Masterson, Cicely Tyson, and Jessica Tandy, went on to earn two Oscar nominations. A sentimental story about female strength, “Fried Green Tomatoes” is still a cherished classic 26 years later.

The empowering film is set in the South in the early 1990s. The story centers on Evelyn Couch (Bates), an insecure, middle-aged woman who is ignored by her husband and drowns her sorrows by binge-eating candy bars. The only light in her life is her growing friendship with Ninny (Tandy) who lives in a Birmingham, AL nursing home. Her older friend starts telling Evelyn tales from the old days of the 1920s, in particular, the story of her “sister-in-law,” Idgie Threadgoode (Masterson) and Idgie’s friend, Ruth (Parker). The pair’s intimate friendship affords them with the strength to overcome adversity.

Tomboy Idgie becomes reclusive after her brother is hit by a train and killed. When her late brother’s girlfriend, Ruth, befriends her, the two forge an unlikely, but powerful friendship. As time passes, Ruth marries a man who she later reveals to Idgie that he is abusive. Idgie rescues Ruth and her son from the dangerous home. Ultimately, the two open up the Whistle Stop Cafe, which becomes a popular spot for their fried chicken, berry pies and fried green tomatoes. When Ruth’s husband, Frank, arrives in town looking to kidnap their son, the husband goes mysteriously missing. The search for Frank and the ensuing trial draws Ruth and Idgie even closer.

By the film’s end, Evelyn and Ninny have forged a lasting friendship, much like Idgie and Ruth. Furthermore, Evelyn discovers her own self-worth after hearing the story about two empowered women. In a clever conclusion, the audience discovers Idgie’s true identity and the importance of female friendships.

When “Fried Green Tomatoes” was released, it departed from an ongoing Hollywood trope of portraying women as victims. All four main characters in the film are survivors and this was a meaningful move in the movie industry. It paved the groundwork for other films like “Erin Brockovich”(2000) to feature strong female characters.

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