Invisible Lives: Where Are All the Older Women in Movies and TV?

Older Women in Movies and TV: As an actress in my mid-fifties, I have never felt more invisible, or more angry. There are few roles for women my age and even though there are decent roles for big guns – think Frances McDormand in Nomadland, Catherine O’Hara in Schitt’s Creek, or Jane Fonda in Grace and Frankie – he there just isn’t enough to go around. It’s really depressing and it feels like it’s just getting worse and worse.

Research from 2019 found that older women are often relegated to supporting roles in movies – or are consistently portrayed as cranky, cranky, or senile.

The study analyzed portrayals of older people, in the top-grossing films of 2019 in Germany, France, the UK and the US – with a focus on women aged 50 and over. The study found that there were no women over 50 in the lead roles in the best films of 2019, while two men over 50 were cast as the protagonists. And when older women appeared, they were stereotypically chosen.

Another 2018 study found that only 35% of this year’s top-grossing films featured 10 or more female characters. Compare that to the 82 percent who had 10 or more male characters in speaking roles.

Likewise, an analysis of over 10,000 films made in the UK between 1911 and 2017 found that the gender mix in UK film distributions has not improved since the end of World War II. Actresses also tend to make fewer films and have had shorter careers than male actors.

The analysis also found that anonymous characters who work in highly skilled professions, such as a doctor, are also much more likely to be portrayed by men.

MP Caroline Noakes, chair of the Women and Inequalities Committee, highlighted the issue on Twitter, saying she wrote to Ofcom to request a meeting on the under-representation of women over 45 by women over 45. UK broadcasters.

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What is perhaps most disturbing is the impact this has on women and girls of all ages. It’s a painful irony that a multibillion-pound industry, claiming to reflect real life, is essentially erasing women’s stories from our screens.

And when older women are shown, TV and movie castings often favor women who have bodies that are the shape and size of younger women. Research conducted in the United States has established a link with eating disorders and negative body image in older women.

The same goes for the women behind the camera. In the United States, for example, women made up just eight percent of directors working on the top 250-grossing films in the United States in 2018.

Victoria Mapplebeck, professor of digital arts at Royal Holloway University in London, recently wrote about how she was unable to continue working as a director after having a child. She writes: “I had to give up my career as a director overnight, realizing that the insecurity of a freelance writer didn’t match being a single parent. Flexible working was not the order of the day 17 years ago. Back then, you were expected to work long hours and weekends. I knew it would be impossible raising my son alone.

Unable to secure funds, she took matters into her own hands and used the iPhone to make a new documentary. She won a Bafta for her smartphone short Missed Call.

Women off screen

In my work as an actor and writer, I have witnessed the way the industry treats older women – if I send a script to a producer, for example, I’m inclined to include only my initials.

I recently wrote and performed a spoken word piece to raise awareness of this issue, in support of the Acting your Age campaign, which calls for an equal career trajectory for men and women in the entertainment industry.

My article is directed to the Silver Foxes – the men of the industry: “masters the stage and the screen, being seen while your female counterparts pick up the dust … tentatively wondering if surgery is an option”.

The campaign, started by actor and activist Nicky Clarke, was supported by David Tennant, Julie Graham, John Simm, Amanda Abbingdon, Ray Winstone and Juliet Stevenson.

Hugh Quarshie, a British actor of Ghanaian descent, who also supported the campaign, compared the invisibility of older women on screen to old black depictions on television and in movies. He says serious pressure needs to be put on producers and broadcasters to bring about rapid change and deal with the problem of invisibility.

As part of her research for the campaign, Clarke found that only nine percent of UK viewers can recognize more than 15 women over 45 on our screens, compared to 48 percent of viewers who can easily identify more than 15 men. of this age on filter.

While 50/50 gender split in roles and more older women in TV and film will help matters, what we really need are more women behind the camera and in the writing studios. telling stories that women of all ages want to hear.

In the age of multiple streaming services, this should be possible. Especially since women watch and broadcast more television programs than men. The audience of women must be valued, in fact, as the end of my poem says: “Attention, attention, attention… she is not going anywhere”.

Image credit: YouTube screenshot

Lisa Moore, Lecturer in Comedy and Performance, University of Salford first published this article on The Conversation. The opinions expressed are those of the author.


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