It’s never been a secret that Hollywood actresses typically have a shelf life, but it’s a lot younger than you might think: According to a recent study, by the age of 40, women get just 20 percent of leading roles — compared to nabbing 80 percent of them in their 20s.
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This disturbing example of age discrimination is something Nicole Kidman wants to shine a light on so it can be obliterated forever.
The 50-year-old Australian screen siren used the platform of the SAG awards, where she was collecting a trophy for her role as a physically abused mother in “Big Little Lies,” to make a bold statement about ageism. She really nailed it, to say the least.
“I want to thank you all for your trailblazing performances you have given over your career and how wonderful it is that our careers today can go beyond 40 years old,” Kidman, who was nominated alongside fellow over-40s Susan Sarandon, Reese Witherspoon, Jessica Lange and Laura Dern, began.
“Twenty years ago, we were pretty washed up by this stage in our lives, so that’s not the case now. We have proven [that] these actresses, and so many more are proving, that we are potent and powerful and viable.”
She then went on to “beg” the industry to stand behind adult women, whose stories are finally being told. “It’s only the beginning, and I’m so proud to be a part of a community that is instigating this change,” she continued. “But I implore the writers, directors, studios and financiers to put passion and money behind our stories. We have proven that we can do this; we can continue to do this, but only with the support of this industry and that money and passion.”
A 2016 Washington Post profile on the topic offers up some seriously compelling evidence that ageism does, in fact, dominate Hollywood, with 40 being the not-so-golden number for women.
Clemson economists Robert Fleck and Andrew Hanssen analyzed IMDB data from movies made in the United States from 1920 to 2011, discovering there has never been such a thing as gender equality in movies. What’s more alarming is that the number of leading roles for women drastically decrease with age. While women get 80 percent of leading roles over men in their 20s, that decreases to 40 percent in their 30s and just 20 percent beyond the age of 40.
“This is a key thing: Women have shorter careers that start earlier,” Fleck said.
The researchers don’t believe women are being discriminated against, but attribute the issue to moviemakers responding to what the general public wants to see. Examining the list of 2017’s most profitable films, they may be right.
But ageism isn’t just a Hollywood thing, and it can have serious health repercussions. One study found that older people with negative attitudes about aging may live 7.5 years less than those who look at it in a positive light. Even more worrisome is that one out of five adults have reported age discrimination in health care settings.
“Ageism in health care is very common and experienced by many older adults,” lead author Stephanie Rogers, M.D., M.P.A.S., M.P.H., a clinical geriatric fellow at University of California San Francisco, explained. “People who felt like they were discriminated against had worsened functional status.”
Bringing the conversation back to Hollywood, when we see actresses of a certain age being cast less and replaced with those decades their junior, it makes the rest of us feel like crap. Aging is a normal part of life for every mortal, and we are all getting older one day at a time. And as we age, don’t we want to watch these “stories” play out onscreen?
Other actresses have spoken up about ageism in Hollywood in the past. “I remember as I was hovering around 40 I thought each movie would be my last. Really. And all the evidence of other 40-year-old women at that time — this is 27 years ago — would lead you to believe it was over,” Meryl Streep told the Wall Street Journal Magazine.
Liv Tyler, who shot to fame in her teens and is now 38, expressed her own concern for the phenomenon to More magazine. “When you’re in your teens or 20s, there is an abundance of ingenue parts that are exciting to play,” she said. “But at [my age], you’re usually the wife or the girlfriend; a sort of second-class citizen.”
But as Kidman points out, women in her age group aren’t necessarily given the opportunity to tell their stories, and when they are — such as in the case with her “Big Little Lies” — people listen. The series has won a whopping 16 major awards this season and has been renewed for a second.
Nicole, we stand with you. Like a bottle of wine, you are getting better with age. We can’t wait to see what you are going to do — and say — next. Keep it coming, woman!
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What Do YOU Think?
Are women over 40 discriminated against in Hollywood, or do you think movie studios are just giving the audience what they want to see? Do you think age discrimination against women is more prevalent in the real world as well? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!