As Elise Eliott tells her plastic surgeon in The First Wives Club, “There are only three ages for women in Hollywood - Babe, District Attorney, and Driving Miss Daisy.” Compare this to the way in which male actors are free to age without fear of losing out on roles or being relegated to the male-equivalent of a spinster, and you find yourself staring straight into the face of Hollywood’s age-old problem: Why can’t women age the same as men?
It’s nothing new. Since Hollywood’s Golden Age, female actors have been made to emphasize their youth and beauty until the camera begins to show their ‘cracks’ and the roles dry up as they reach their 'expiration date'. It can be put down to Hollywood executives wanting to appeal to younger male viewers, and to the severe lack of meaty roles for women of a certain age, but in both instances, it’s the sexualization of females that brings about such a screeching halt to the careers of women post-forties.
Why else would Hollywood feel the need to consistently cast younger women in older roles when they have an ample amount of female actors within the right age bracket that would be perfect for the job? This is especially true when they are cast as the mothers of their male co-stars who are (more often than not) the same age, or quite close to it.
Angelina Jolie as Colin Farrell’s mother in Alexander comes to mind (Farrell is only one year younger than her). Jennifer Lawrence in Joy and Silver Linings Playbook is another. It's a problem that's been addressed numerous times, by actors including Anne Hathaway, Liv Tyler, and Maggie Gyllenhaal, who have all previously enjoyed the benefits of being young in Hollywood.
If George Clooney can still play the leading man at 54, without needing to darken his greying hair, why can’t it be the same for a woman of the same age? Surely there should be more parts available than ‘post-menopausal cougar’ and ‘angry spinster.’ Why is such a fuss made about Susan Sarandon’s cleavage at the SAG Awards while not a bad word is spoken about the cleavages of the younger female attendees? (The issue of the ‘In Memoriam’ segment is a separate topic). Why should a woman’s age, rather than her talent, spell the end of her career?
There’s been some fuss made lately about Rebel Wilson and her apparent “deceiving” of the world when it was stated by a former classmate that her name is actually Melanie Bownds and she is 35 going on 36. At the time, Wilson’s response was great, setting the record straight that Melanie is her middle name and Bownds is her father's surname, before tweeting a snarky comeback.
Bringing up the issue once again, she appeared on Australian TV show Home Delivery a few days ago to put the issue to rest, saying:
When I did go to America, I kind of just stopped saying my age ... the reality is, when you work in America, you have to show your passport and your visa for every single job, so it’s not like you can hide how old you are. So for the press to do a story that I was deliberately, you know, lying or whatever ... No, I was just being a lady and not telling my age when I moved to America. And that’s not really a crime. Also, most actresses do that.
It's true, most female actors do lie about their age, sometimes more out of necessity than desire. Should Rebel Wilson be shamed for supposedly lying about her age? Of course not! It's a fact of life that people age, but maybe not something which Hollywood is great at acknowledging. Meryl Streep and Helen Mirren have filled up Hollywood's quota for older women and there's not much room for more. This is a shame, because there are many talented female actors whose talents are going to waste purely because they don't fit the required image that's been in place for far too long.
The best response to Hollywood's ageist attitudes? A move towards green-lighting more films involving women; developing meaty roles that don't involve stereotypes like the cougar/spinster/mother-in-a-secondary-role. Take a step back and realize that women of all ages can sell out theaters too.