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Actresses and (older) age: the wider lack of roles

by on January 12, 2015

Russell Crowe commented last week, much reported in the media, as here in The Independent, that actresses needed to ‘act their age’, stop complaining about being overlooked for parts as they get older, shouldn’t expect to play the 21 year old ingénue and instead accept roles more suited to their age.

Naturally this has sparked considerable debate. Is he right or wrong? Here in The Telegraph it’s suggested that these comments are part of a cult of youth (ironically at a time when life expectancy is increasing), where we try to preserve our youth in ways which ‘suggests a universal panic at being written off as old and irrelevant’.

Meryl Streep is reported here to agree with Crowe, saying ‘It’s good to live in the place where you are” though some might say it’s easy for this prodigiously talented actress to say this. After all, Amy Poehler joked at last year’s Golden Globes that there are plenty of roles for mature women in Hollywood – as long as their name is Meryl Streep. And as she explained on last Friday’s Graham Norton Show, even Meryl Streep was offered three different roles as witches in the year she turned 40.

So is Russell Crowe being over-simplistic and is he applying experience from the perspective of the middle-aged actor who still finds a range of roles available? Because I’m not sure that older actresses want to play the ingénue. What they have highlighted is the lack of roles for older women which in turn surfaces a wider lack of value for women who are beyond the years of child-bearing and youthful beauty as if these are the only dimensions which women can usefully contribute to society.

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