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For Your Viewing Pleasure: Older Women in Hollywood

I recently went to the movies to see Skyfall (great Bond movie, by the way), and noticed something interesting during the ten minutes of thrill seeking trailers: Coming soon to a theatre near you– older men in action movies!
Die Hard, with Bruce Willis, 57. Last Stand, with Arnold Schwarzenegger, 65. Jack Reacher, with Tom Cruise, 50. Then there’s what’s already in theaters: Tom Hanks, 57, in Atlas. Liam Neeson ,60, in Taken 2. Denzel Washington, 57, in Flight. And dare I mention the Expendables that came out August of this year.
I am normally very pleased when I see people doing notable work–whether acting or otherwise– in spite of a perceived age hindrance. Especially “older” folks.

Michelle Pfeiffer

Yes, they can still be attractive, active, and sexual; no they shouldn’t hang up the towel and go sit on a wheelchair until they die. But before we go celebrate Hollywood for embracing exciting roles for the older actor, let’s pause and remember that women in this industry still lag way behind in that regard.

In an interview with NPR’s Fresh Air last December, Meryl Streep said that when she turned fifty, all the roles offered to her were that of witches. She was amazed at how many, in fact.

Anita Singh of the Daily Telegraph points to the reality that there is a painfully low number of female writers in Hollywood which explains why there are fewer female roles. Male writers, she says, “Write about what they know: what it’s like to be a man. In the last 20 years, only four winners of the best original screenplay Oscar have been female. And the films they gave us? Thelma and LouiseThe PianoLost in Translation and Juno, all of which had great roles for women at their centre.”

But simply having more female writers would not fix this problem on its own. There needs to be a perception change. There needs to be a space for better roles for the non twenty-something actress. A certain mystery studio chief who, for a piece in Vulture, put it not-so-mildly:

“What movie would you make for them (Kate Hudson, Charlize Theron, Reese Witherspoon, et. al)? They can’t date anymore, they’re all mothers. After a while, trying to extract the same story from the same tropes gets old. […] There aren’t many roles, and there are a lot of women of the same age. So, either they take the roles that are available and then get punished because the material is bad, or if they wait, they get punished for not working enough.”

“Extracting the same story from the same tropes gets old” apparently doesn’t seem to apply to men. Taken 2? Die Hard (again?!)? It’s not about trying to put Kate Hudson or Reese Witherspoon in the role of a young blonde who’s looking for love, it’s about making movies that offer female roles beyond a young blonde looking for love.

If a 65 year-old Arnold Schwarzenegger can play the intimidating tough guy with the heart of gold, isn’t there space in Hollywood for a Michelle Pfeiffer, 54, to play the female equivalent? Isn’t there space for seasoned, funny, sexy, smart, compelling, brave female stories? After all, women are over half (50.8%) of the American population– 51 million are between the ages of 40 and 64. I’m sure Hollywood can create movies that speak to their compelling, and relevant, narratives.


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