Ageism in Hollywood – The Silvering Screen

Hollywood has long pushed women actors out as they age because the industry places inordinate value on women’s sexuality, youth, and appearance. Aging male actors simply don’t suffer the same fate. In our present golden age of streaming, actors like Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin have enjoyed roles which explore the complex and whole lives of aging women— their characters Grace and Frankie even launch a sex toy business in their seventies! Netflix recently renewed this show for a sixth season. 

Actors like Taraji P. Henson are vowing to break Hollywood’s ageism glass ceiling as they approach and move past age fifty. After years of gender activism in Hollywood, is the silver screen making progress when it comes to better representation of the silver-haired set? We hope so!

• At the 2019 Academy Awards, six of the ten actors nominated for Best Actor and Best Actress were age sixty or older.
• 30% of U.S. moviegoers are fifty or older, according to a 2017 AARP study.
• According to the MPAA 2016 Theatrical Market Statistics Report, women are 52% of the moviegoers and 50% of the ticket buyers.
• The median viewer age of the top ten television shows ranges from the late forties to the late fifties.
• Those ages 65+ watch an average of 50 hours of television a week, according to Nielsen.

As Empire star Taraji P. Henson notes, “We bring the husbands to the movies, we bring our families, our boyfriends, we are the box office draw so why not cater to women. That’s a no-brainer.” And data is showing that older women can carry films to box office success as well. Jamie Lee Curtis broke box office records when she reprised her role in the 2018 film Halloween, forty years after the original. The film was the top-grossing film with a female lead over the age of 55.

And just as important, Hollywood is making strides in how it portrays older women characters as well. Patricia Arquette, who recently won a Golden Globe for her role in Showtime’s Escape at Dannemora, discusses her decision to gain weight for her two most recent roles. “I want to have these conversations about women being sexual who don’t have that certain Hollywood body type. If you look around you in the real world, does everyone look like that? Aren’t we supposed to be telling the stories of human beings?” Perhaps we’re finally moving beyond the notion of a female actor’s last f**kable day (link NSFW).

Think of the women in your life. As they grow older, they often grow wiser and more interesting; more confident and insightful. The stories about the lives of older women in entertainment media should be as complex and interesting as real life.