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HomeEntertainmentWhen Hollywood Killed Female Adulthood – The Problem with Stereotypes

When Hollywood Killed Female Adulthood – The Problem with Stereotypes


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Today Hollywood tells only one story: that a man can be whatever he wants to be and that the options for a woman after 30 in the entertainment industry are dwindling

At the time Silver Linings Playbook was filmed, Jennifer Lawrence – who played a thirty-nine-year-old widow – was just a little old enough to drink freely in the US. Accordingly, in Joy, Lawrence took on the role of a woman in her forties, while in American Hustle she lived a love affair with the forty-year-old Christian Bale.

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As strange as these casting decisions may seem, no one paid much attention, let alone raised the burning question: why would a 20-year-old play a woman in her 30s, especially when there are so many talented actresses sitting on the sidelines? Does pop culture want to erase the differences between a woman in her 20s and a woman in her 40s?

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It’s no secret that Hollywood has a serious problem with stereotypes. There seems to be only one woman in Hollywood – white, usually blonde, baby-faced and somewhere between 18 and 25 years old.

Fortunately, it wasn’t always like that. During the Golden Age of Hollywood, starlets were celebrated for their femininity. There was about them a powerful comfort and elegance that no youthful charm could imitate. When did being a grown woman stop being aspirational?

The age distribution in Hollywood today is something like this: If you’re a woman in your 20s, you’re good for almost any role. If you’re a woman in your 40s and 50s, however, you’ll only be playing moms and aunts, and if you’re unlucky enough to be a woman in your 30s, you’re basically unlucky. As an actress in your 30s, you are too young to play mature roles and too old for anything else. It’s almost unheard of for a 35-year-old to actually play a 35-year-old on screen.

When 28-year-old Olivia Wilde auditioned for the role of Leonardo DiCaprio’s wife in The Wolf of Wall Street, she was turned down for being “too old” for the role, despite being at least ten years younger than DiCaprio. The film’s producers chose 22-year-old Margot Robbie for the role. Accordingly, Scarlett Johansson was only 19 when she played a young married woman alongside 55-year-old Bill Murray in Lost in Translation.

When 22-year-old Kristen Stewart left the lead role in Focus because she was uncomfortable with the age difference between her and her 44-year-old co-star (and crush) Will Smith, the news didn’t make much of a dent since no one saw anything unusual about it.

What is the message?

Isn’t strength and maturity sexy? That a woman over 25 just has to deal with her collagen loss and shows any acting skills as a mom or grandma?

Let’s take a few steps back. Katharine Hepburn, at 42, starred in Desk Set, a film in which two male leads were vying for the lead. And in Hepburn plays a wonderful and mature woman. Today, she would be considered too old, of course.

Similarly, Bette Davis was 34 in Now Voyager (1942). In the film, the protagonist transforms from an insecure girl to a confident woman. She embodies a young woman who grows up and resists those who try to dominate her and take control of her life. If Voyager were made today, the protagonist would probably be a teenage girl.

So how did we get here?

There just aren’t enough women making decisions in Hollywood. Most people, from producers to directors to casting directors, are predominantly men. Think about the last time you saw a movie starring middle-aged women making big, world-changing decisions like in The Big Short, or going on epic adventures like The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, or fighting evil like in movies like those of James Bond or just to do some pretentious risque antics like in Ocean’s 11. With – thankfully – a few exceptions, the women are the candy, they are not in the movie to make important decisions or save anyone, they are there to complement . But we shouldn’t even be talking about it anymore.

The stories we hear, read, see around us matter more than many of us realize. They help shape our reality. And it is vital to hear the stories of all people, young and old, rich and poor, ordinary and extraordinary. Hollywood today tells only one story: that the most exciting things happen only to men, that a man can be anything he wants to be, and that the options for a woman after 30 in the entertainment industry are dwindling. A shame, because there are so many stories yet to be told.

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