To age is a sin. That’s what Madonna said, and well, as usual, she hit the nail on the head. She was speaking about the entertainment industry, but that premise is everywhere: from politics to fashion, film and newspapers, there’s no greater crime a woman can commit than not being eternally young. In exactly a week today, the Oscars will be here. Otherwise known as the ‘red carpet twenty-something’ event, the Academy Awards in an intended celebration of film, but almost always leading the pack in terms of nominations are hot young things like Emma Stone and Natalie Portman. That statement isn’t to diminish their talent – they deserve their accolades – but Hollywood automatically favours the young. Many things can work against you in the industry such as being a feminist or simply being a woman, but it’s your age that deduces another level of fear.
There are few parts for, as Tina Fey so eloquently put it back in 2014, “the Meryl Streeps over 60,” and even then, the sparse parts are horribly sexist – from Susan Sarandon playing Melissa McCarthy’s grandmother (seriously?) in Tammy to Streep as a scraggly old witch in Into The Woods.
And the ageism issue isn’t just confined to those who have hit 40 and over; it’s starting younger. Oscar-winning actress Anne Hathaway admitted that at the tender age of just 32, she had reached her sell-by date. Last year, Maggie Gyllenhaal was pronounced far too old (at 37) to play the partner of a man over 50, and 28-year-old Olivia Wilde was told the same thing when she auditioned for the part that went to the then 22-year-old Margo Robbie in The Wolf of Wall Street. The late, brilliant Carrie Fisher was subjected to such shaming when some online ire found it fitting to debate her ageing between her first Star Wars film the most recent one. Her tweet sums up what people obviously still need reminding of: “Please stop debating about whether or not I aged well…Youth and beauty are not accomplishments.”
And even though we know the industry’s always feared ‘The Older Woman’; it’s depressing to see that in 2017 in Hollywood, the worst thing a woman can still do is age. And the ageism is only getting worse
The new study from USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism analysed over 1,200 speaking parts in 25 movies that received Best Picture Oscar nominations from 2014 to 2016. It found that only 148 (12 percent) of those characters were 60 years of age or older—and, of those 148 characters, 78 percent were men and a measly 22 percent were women. That’s 3.5 men for every woman in an already tiny category, according to Wired.
The research notes that those deemed “seniors” represent about 19 percent of the US population, but only 11 percent of the people with speaking roles in the top 100 movies of 2015. Worse, “seniors” are the one group that “has not been at the centre of public anger and advocacy” reaffirming that people talk about issues of race, sexuality, and gender, before age.
While it’s difficult to quell the rage when looking at the findings, it is reassuring to look around and see that many superhero women – the Jessica Langes, the Meryl Streeps and the Hillary Clintons -give those who would box and condemn them for getting older the ultimate middle-fingered gesture: they keep going. They keep doing brilliant things on behalf of women everywhere, and they keep protesting the obsceneness of it all, just as Helen Mirren does.
“It’s fucking outrageous. We all watched James Bond as he got more and more geriatric, and his girlfriends got younger and younger.It’s ridiculous.”
We are right there with you, Helen.