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Posts Tagged ‘Meryl Streep’

Surely you’ve heard about that million dollar lawsuit against Amazon filed by an anonymous actress who claims that Internet Movie Database (which is owned by Amazon) damaged her ability to get work because it published her age.  According to the Daily Dot, the lawsuit claimed:

“If one is perceived to be ‘over-the-hill,’ i.e., approaching 40, it is nearly impossible for an up-and-coming actress, such as the plaintiff, to get work as she is thought to have less of an ‘upside,’ therefore, casting directors, producers, directors, agents-manager, etc. do not give her the same opportunities, regardless of her appearance or talent…”

I know nothing about the woman, other than that she is an Asian from Texas who claims to look young for her age.  I know nothing about her resume.  I have no idea whether she has talent.  I don’t know whether it’s a legitimate lawsuit or she’s just out to make a quick buck.  I don’t even know how old she is.

But what I do know is this. Put a man of a certain age up on the big screen and he’s not only viable as an actor, but might generate some fantasies: George Clooney is 50.  Richard Gere is 62.  Pierce Brosnan: 58.  Sean Connery was named the sexiest man of the year by people magazine back in 1999 when he was, I believe, 68.  Viggo Mortensen is 58. Colin Firth and Hugh Grant: Both 50. And Jeremy Irons?  You may not find him especially sexy, but as Pope Alexander VI in the TV series The Borgias, he gets more than his share of action.  He is 62.

Now let’s turn the tables: Who are the leading ladies of the same age, with the same kind of currency, the same box office draw?  Can’t think of many, can you?  Not necessarily because they aren’t equally talented as actors, or equally sexy, but because they just don’t get the parts.

There could be any number of reasons for this, none of them especially pleasant to contemplate, but what we want to focus on today is just one of them: the gender make-up of Hollywood itself.

For years we have decried the fact that the old guy always gets the cute girl in the movies. We have for years ranted: about the schlubby guys on TV who have the slim trim wives; about the loser guys who end up with, you know, Katherine Heigl; about the sweet young things who are wooed by the guys old enough to be their grandpas.

You have to ask yourself: who writes this stuff?  And the answer, as we discovered when we researched our book, is this: predominantly men.  Back in 2009, the Hollywood Writers Report found that women and minorities had not made any significant hiring gains since 2005, with women writers making up roughly one-quarter of the field: 28 percent of TV writers and 18 percent of film writers.Their salaries also showed a discrepancy: White men $98,875, versus women $57,151—for a whopping wage gap of $41,724.40.

When we checked in with the their latest report, released a few months ago, we found that women’s share had actually declined:

 The present report shows that women writers remain stuck at 28 percent of television employment, while their share of film employment actually declined a percentage point since the last report to 17 percent. Although the minority share of television employment increased a percentage point to 10 percent (matching the shares evident in years immediately prior to the 2007 nadir), the group’s share of film employment declined to just 5 percent – the lowest figure in at least ten years.

Another study, this one by the Center for the Study of Women in Film and Television found that:

In 2010, women comprised 16% of all directors, executive producers, producers, writers, cinematographers, and editors working on the top 250 domestic grossing films. This represents a decline of 1 percentage point from 1998 and is even with 2009 figures.

Women accounted for 7% of directors in 2010, the same percentage as in 2009. This figure represents a decline of two percentage points from 1998.

Likewise, a 2011 study by USC’s Annenberg Center found that when it came to creative positions in general, including directing or producing, women were again grossly outnumbered.  In a piece on the study for the Women’s Media Center, the researchers for that study, Stacy L. Smith and Marc Choueiti, wrote:

Turning to behind-the-camera employees, the gender gap is far more problematic.  For every one working female director, writer, or producer, there are 4.9 working males in the same above-the-line gate-keeping positions.  Stated in another way, only 8 percent of directors, 13.6 percent of writers, and 19.1 percent of producers were female across the 100 top-grossing films in 2008.  These numbers are unsettling, as one way to diversify images on screen may be to vary the personnel responsible for making the content.  In fact, this is exactly what our results showed.  When one or more females are involved directing, writing, or producing, the number of females on screen increases substantially (see Figure 1).  In the case of screenwriters, the presence of at least one female on the writing team was associated with a 14.3 percent increase in the percentage of female characters on screen.

All of this has an impact — three words for you:  The Playboy Club, which fortunately just met its timely demise — as the reseachers noted, not the least of which is the fact that when there’s no diversity behind the camera, the women we see in front of it are not only showing a lot of skin, but often unrealistically young.  (Backstage reports that women over 40 account for a mere 8 percent of characters in the 2010-11 and 2011-12 TV seasons to date).

That impact goes far beyond the silver screen, as Jennifer Seibel Newsom, producer of Miss Representation points out:

And really what our culture is communicating to us is vis-a-vis the media, which is this pedagogical force of communication in our culture, is that a woman’s value lies in her youth, her beauty, and her sexuality and not in her capacity to lead…

Back in 2010 when Meryl Streep — the exception who proves the rule? — made news by starring as a sexual being in “It’s Complicated”, she was the subject of a cover story in Vanity Fair, which dug into the stereotypical way in which the media treat women of a certain age:

Any inhibitions notwithstanding, a vibrant sexuality has remained a crucial aspect of Streep’s appeal, despite her advancing years and the limitations that others might try to impose in response. When Clint Eastwood cast her to star opposite him in The Bridges of Madison County, which won Streep an Oscar nomination for best actress, in 1996, his reason was simple: “She’s the greatest actress in the world,” he said with a shrug.

That said, Streep reports, “There was a big fight over how I was too old to play the part, even though Clint was nearly 20 years older than me. The part was for a 45-year-old woman, and Clint said, ‘This is a 45-year-old woman.’”

Old news, perhaps.  But have things changed in the past 15 years?  Probably not, which brings us back to that Amazon lawsuit.  Frivolous or not, it makes you wonder about the biggest question of all: Does Hollywood reflect our reality — or determine it?

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Partially fueled by good champagne, we had some silly chitchat with good friends on New Year’s Eve regarding stupid celebrity “news” stories. My husband won the “top this” prize with a rumor that made the rounds a while back about Morgan Freeman planning to marry his step granddaughter.

Huh?

Apart from the very obvious yuck factor, there’s this: Freeman is 72. His intended is 27.

Now, at the risk of starting out the new year in a pair of the cranky pants, I can’t help but notice that nowhere (yes, I googled) is Freeman referred to as, ahem, an “older” actor. But women actors? Once they become old enough to be, say, Freeman’s daughter, “older” becomes their middle name.

Case in point, a recent post on Broadsheet riffing on a CNN.com piece by Breeanna Hare about the new screen stereotype of the woman-of-a-certain-age: the boozy grandma. First, from Hare’s post:

“These women, they’re not knitting — they’re more interested in mixing their drinks than watching kids,” said Entertainment Weekly’s pop culture writer Tim Stack. “They’re more inclined to offer a witticism or a barb than to give you sweet advice. These ladies aren’t cooking — I don’t think they even eat. They drink their lunch. And their dinners. And their breakfasts. … Maybe they eat the olives.”

They’re the exact opposite of the stereotypical grandmother, said TVGuide.com’s senior editor Mickey O’Connor.

Or, apparently, the over-50 woman. While Broadsheet rightly bemoans the fact that good parts for veteran women actors are slim and none, I couldn’t miss a certain patronizing subtext in the way writer Kate Harding brings up Meryl Streep and Susan Sarandon, both playing real women on the big screen this season, and her need to frame them in terms of their age. Ugh. From her post:

For all the talk of Meryl Streep rocking Hollywood’s socks off this year (and believe me, I’m as thrilled about that as any other female moviegoer who’s not invested in Edward vs. Jacob), let us not forget that she’s Meryl Freakin’ Streep. Is her recent wave of success really going to help other women her age to open movies and land the cover of Vanity Fair? TVGuide.com senior editor Mickey O’Connor provides the reality check: “Maybe it’s become, play a drunk grandmother and you get to work past the age of 60. Even if you’re Susan Sarandon …

I suppose the boozy grandma is better than the dotty — or nonexistent — older woman character, in that she at least has a discernible personality, opinions and enough brains to produce just the right clever, cutting remark on the spot. But does she have to be a functional alcoholic for the audience to accept those things? Does a woman over 60 — or 50, even — have to be snobby and self-absorbed to be interesting?

Et tu, Broadsheet? Do we ever categorize men in terms of their last birthday? It may be celebs we’re talking about here, but make no mistake: the trickle down hurts us all.

One of the things we talk about in journalism classes is the damage done by unwitting stereotyping – see above — often, a reporter’s form of shorthand. One of the most insidious forms that affects marginalized groups is overcompensation: “gee whiz” features on 75-year-old marathoners, for example, or inspirational series on the academic success of the so-called “model minorities”. All of which leads me back to the way that Meryl Streep’s over-50 sexual being in “It’s Complicated” or Susan Sarandon’s smoking, drinking granny in “The Lovely Bones” have been framed in the media: as novelties, the anti-stereotypes who, apparently, are the exceptions who prove the rule. The unkindest subtext of all: that they – apparently, unlike most women their age – not only have lives of their own but are attractive to boot.

Shouldn’t they be in the kitchen, wearing frumpy clothes and sensible shoes, humming 1950s show tunes?

Clearly, Streep, currently gracing the cover of this month’s Vanity Fair, is not. The VF profile of her does one great job of thumbing its nose at the stereotypical way the media treat women of a certain age. Consider this:

Any inhibitions notwithstanding, a vibrant sexuality has remained a crucial aspect of Streep’s appeal, despite her advancing years and the limitations that others might try to impose in response. When Clint Eastwood cast her to star opposite him in The Bridges of Madison County, which won Streep an Oscar nomination for best actress, in 1996, his reason was simple: “She’s the greatest actress in the world,” he said with a shrug.

That said, Streep reports, “There was a big fight over how I was too old to play the part, even though Clint was nearly 20 years older than me. The part was for a 45-year-old woman, and Clint said, ‘This is a 45-year-old woman.’”

When casting female roles, directors and producers have often applied a comically exaggerated double standard about age. With Streep now playing the ex-wife and current love interest of Alec Baldwin, who is actually nine years younger than she is, many observers have started wondering whether such old-fashioned biases are really changing in ways that will affect other actresses, or only in relation to Streep, who has always been sui generis. In any case, a good part of her aforementioned glee may have to do with her ongoing amazement that, after all these years, she’s still getting away with doing what she loves. “I’ve been given great, weird, interesting parts well past my ‘Sell by’ date,” she says. “I remember saying to Don when I was 38, ‘Well, it’s over.’ And then we kicked the can down the road a little further.”

Refreshing, no? But back to the case in point, we – that’s the collective “we” – rarely box in men in terms of their age. Did anyone but me bat an eye when Michael Douglas was paired with Demi Moore in Disclosure? When Sean Connery’s love interest in Entrapment was Douglas’s wife, Catherine Zeta-Jones? Oldies yes, but you could pull just about ANY movie made today to prove the same point: The leading man needs only a recognizable name. His costar, on the other hand, needs not only a name — but must be young and stunningly beautiful, too. Men in their 50s and 60s not only get to be leading men who still get the girl, but in the real world, they also run companies and countries. They’ve got status that is earned by (wait for it…) AGE. Their female counterparts, on the other hand, generally are considered redundant at best, silly at worst.

All of which makes me wonder if ageism holds us back every bit as much as sexism does, whether the tyranny of the ticking clock that Shannon wrote about here and here may be one reason why we agonize so much over our choices. Sure we’re raised to know that we can be or do anything. But that nasty little voice keeps on whispering: we better get it done before we turn 40.

Maybe we ought to just take it from Meryl. The best way to ring in 2010 is to silence that voice — not to mention the clock — once and for all. As Streep points out in the VF profile, Julia Child did not become, well, Julia Child until she was 50.

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Now that the flurry that is August has subsided, a few quick hits to remind us that we are all, well, Undecided.

And apparently there are enough of us out there to prompt our own marketing niche. Hence, The New Decider Watch? Terminally undecided? Simply sneak a peak at your wrist:

The New Decider helps you make decisions: as the seconds tick round the words “yes” and “no” are alternately displayed. When you need to make a decision, simply glance at the watch for your answer. A magnifying dome sits just above the answer window to aid visibility
The New Decider may not always be right, but as Tony Soprano observes,“a wrong decision is better than indecision”.

The wisdom of Tony Soprano notwithstanding, we may think that indecision leads to stress. And clearly, it does. But a new study out of Portugal suggests that stress itself can lead to bad decision-making. The study, published in the July 31st of Science, reveals that chronic stress can switch our brain onto automatic pilot, so that we make choices out of habit, rather than thoughtful cognition:

The researchers looked into goal-orientated decisions (so those where consequences are taken into account) and automatic decisions (so those resulting from habit) as well as the switch between the two, and how this was affected by chronic stress.
To answer that Ferreira and colleagues used rats exposed to chronic stress and, together with normal control rats, put them through training to learn to press a lever in order to obtain food rewards. Both stressed and control rats responded very similarly, rising the number of pressings with time as they learned that this would increase the rewards obtained.
But when the situation was changed by feeding the animals on the side, so making the food rewards less appealing, while control rats were able to re-evaluate the situation and diminish the number of pressings, stressed rats continued to push the lever constantly despite the effort this required. This suggested that once a habit was established stressed animals were no longer capable of switching the response back.

On another topic, but clearly related, Meryl Streep riffs on work-life balance and gender issues, Hollywood style, in a ten-minute interview she granted
salon.com a few weeks back. Love what she says here:

You had a famous quip in the 1990s about how difficult it was for older women to get good roles — that Hollywood producers don’t want to cast women who remind them of their first wives. Recently, you’ve said that you don’t think anything has changed dramatically. And yet you’re wildly in demand …
I don’t think they have changed dramatically, otherwise all the actors my age would be working as much as I am. And I think I have surfed a wave of very good fortune. I guess, starting with [“The Devil Wears Prada”] it has to do with the money coming back in big blockbusters. But if there were more female-driven, interesting projects that were widely distributed … That audience is there, they want to go.
There does seem to be a strange amnesia after women-targeted films, like “Mamma Mia,” are huge hits.
In the blogosphere. Because the blogosphere is still mostly fellas. Somehow they have all the spare time because — I guess, someone else is cooking, or cleaning, or doing whatever it is that needs to be done. [Laughs]

In other words, we may be the breadwinners, but we’re still expected to, um, butter the toast? USA Today reports that by October or November of this year, women will represent the majority of workers. But will numbers give us parity or equality. Nope. From the article:

The change reflects the growing importance of women as wage earners, but it doesn’t show full equality, Hartmann says. On average, women work fewer hours than men, hold more part-time jobs and earn 77% of what men make, she says. Men also still dominate higher-paying executive ranks.

On the other hand, we may not be fully represented in the boardrooms, but we do have spending power. According to “WOMEN WANT MORE: How to Capture Your Share of the World’s Largest, Fastest-Growing Market” (HarperBusiness, September 2009), educated working women may drive the new economy, with some $5 trillion in incremental earnings to spend. Which may give us some leverage, at least as consumers. From a press release about the book:

“WOMEN WANT MORE” is based on The Boston Consulting Group Global Inquiry into Women and Consumerism, a survey of more than 12,000 women in 22 countries around the world, comprehensive one-on-one interviews, as well as the authors’ decades of experience with companies and consumers worldwide. The survey results show that women are dissatisfied with the products and services available to them in many categories, largely because companies misunderstand women’s issues and fail to answer their needs. Most of all, women are overwhelmed by demands on their time and the challenges of dealing with the many roles they typically play — as wives, mothers, partners, professionals, friends, colleagues, sisters, and daughters.

And finally, this being the day after Labor Day, a back-to-school item. Newsday.com reports that as the economy falls, the number of college students stressed about choosing a major spikes. (Dirty little secret: Your major? Doesn’t always matter.) The response, on some campuses, is to relieve students’ anxiety by encouraging them to take a taste test to find what they truly love, rather than worrying about a career. Others, such as Hofstra, are piloting programs to help students navigate the decision-making process:

Ten students will meet once a week for two months and participate in a series of exercises designed to reveal their talents, skills and interests. By the end of eight weeks, the goal is for each to choose a major.
“They come in thinking they absolutely have to know what they’re doing from the beginning of freshman year,” said Jayne Brownell, assistant vice president of student affairs. “But they are putting false pressure on themselves, and placing too much importance on the choice of a major in determining life success.”
Brownell ought to know. She majored in women’s studies at Rutgers University. “When people asked me my major and what I was going to do when I graduated, I didn’t have an answer,” she said. She spent five years as a business manager for an advertising company right after graduation.
“You’re not going to have one career anymore,” she said. “That isn’t the way the world works. I think my education served me very well over time.”

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