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How to Combat Hollywood’s Ageism Problem

Hollywood is a broken industry. It is sexist, racist and queerphobic whether outright (in comments from directors and casting agents that just don’t cast or consider women, people of colour or LGBT people for roles) or behind closed doors (in the way it fails to portray their stories and protests ‘creative license!’ when called out for it).

Rather unsurprisingly, the industry is also incredibly ageist as it either ignores the stories of mature people or pigeonholes them into background grandparent roles unbefitting of actors who have headlined Hollywood’s finest projects throughout their careers.

And of course by “mature people” I of course mean women. No one tuts or mutters under their breath about Harrison Ford, wondering how on Earth his aging body was able to portray and action hero in Cowboys & Aliens at the ripe old age of 73, nor do they wonder how he’ll be able to handle a lightsaber in the upcoming Star Wars movie and by the time that’s released, he’ll be 77. ‘My what a career he’s had’, they’ll say continuing to praise him like not a single wrinkle has graced his forehead, meanwhile, they ask of Meryl Streep ‘my what a career she’s had, but isn’t it time to retire now?’ before following it up with some comment about her appearance.

Hollywood’s ageism problem has come up most recently with comedian Amy Schumer’s skit titled ‘Last F—kable Day’ in which Schumer stumbles upon a party being held by Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Patricia Arquette and Tina Fey. All of them are well-known, talented names but in the skit they recognise that they each have their final ‘f—kable’ day in which the media tosses them aside, no longer finding them attractive or desirable in any way. Once they hit that age, they agree, their sexual appeal ups and leaves.

Much like the rest of Amy’s skits, which she creates for her Comedy Central show Inside Amy Schumer, she offers a tongue in cheek look at hard hitting subjects and clearly this is no different. But it’s not just a talking point; it’s something that’s actively putting a stop to the careers of many talented mature women and it’s also robbing us – the audience – of fantastic stories. We don’t just want to see mature women playing bit part grannies and elderly parent extras, we want them robbing from the government like Diane Keaton in Mad Money, or Kate Walsh embracing her rebellious streak in Bad Judge or Viola Davis as the unapologetic, no-nonsense lawyer at the centre of How to Get Away With Murder’s mysteries.

But change won’t come unless it’s encouraged from the top, says Marta Kauffman, a writer on Friends and the co-creator of Netflix show Grace and Frankie, which features Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin as two rivals whose husbands want to run away with each other.

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Speaking to The Huffington Post, Kauffman explains that “we definitely need more [women] behind the scenes. When we were looking for lists of directors, there were so few directors that were women, compared to how many men there are. With show-runners too, there are a lot more than there were, but we’re still underrepresented”.

However, even though Kauffman has gone out of her way to hire female directors and writers, Grace and Frankie is just one show and Hollywood should still be embarrassed by the numbers – just 9% of directors in Hollywood are women and elsewhere behind the scenes, men outweigh women by five to one.

Also helping is the aforementioned Meryl Streep who recently made headlines for funding a writer’s lab for women over 40. The lab, called ‘Writers Lab’, will be run by New York Women in Film and Television and IRIS which is a female filmmaker collective.

Writers Lab “evolved in recognition of the absence of the female voice in narrative film, along with the dearth of support for script development” and will hope to get more women into employment both behind and in front of the camera.

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But even then, more work needs to be done. There are significant roadblocks in terms of high-profile opinions, such as Russell Crowe blaming a lack of mature women in the media on their wishes to be portrayed as the ‘ingénue’ and others that agree with him. But by supporting female-led productions and by championing the stories of all women of all ages, backgrounds, races and sexualities, Hollywood’s bigwigs will be forced to take notice and we’ll see a better more diverse world of media soon enough.

 

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