Kristin Scott Thomas of The English Patient, Meryl Streep, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler are just a handful of women working in the entertainment industry who have a few things in common. The first is that they are all formidable actresses. The second and the issue that easily makes for more gossip fodder is that they are all over-40 and women who face Hollywood’s ongoing dismissal once they’re past a certain age. It’s a massive, widely discussed problem and one that seems here to stay, yet a new US law seeks to try and tackle this somewhat.
A new California law will allow actors to remove their age from the Internet Movie Database to stop discrimination, so talk is hopeful that perhaps, at last, women of a certain vintage (that’s 35 in Hollywood), will no longer cease to take the centre stage.
And yes, we’re aware the issue won’t always be confined solely to women, but it is them who face the barrage of scrutiny, either for embracing the natural process or being shunned because they’d rather do something about it, as was the case for Friends actress Courteney Cox.“I was trying to keep up with getting older and trying to chase that [youth],” Cox said. “But it’s something you can’t keep up with.” Something’s Gotta Give actress Amanda Peet told Lenny she was “ashamed to admit she cared about her looks,” saying, “What’s the point of doing it if everyone can tell? I want the thing that makes me look younger, not the thing that makes me look like I did the thing,” she said.
And of course, men rarely get scrutinised about “the thing,”, i.e., ageing. In fact, they’re lauded for it; salt n’ pepper George Clooney, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck have never been in greater demand, yet women are confined to ridiculous ageist casting, from Susan Sarandon playing Melissa McCarthy’s grandmother (seriously?) in Tammy to Meryl 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. “I can’t complain about it because I benefitted from it,” she said. “When I was in my early twenties, parts would be written for women in their fifties, and I would get them. And now I’m in my early thirties, and I’m like, ‘Why did that 24-year-old get that part?’”
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.
Will the new US law to anything to stop this madness? We can only cross our fingers and hope because times need to change, and this needs to start happening right now. And in the apt words of Helen Mirren, “It’s fucking outrageous. It’s ridiculous. We all watched James Bond as he got more and more geriatric, and his girlfriends got younger and younger. It’s so annoying.”