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time for new-age narratives in Hollywood

Hollywood used to be a place and institution that wasn’t interested in female actresses after the age of 40. Hollywood has only been interested in youth culture for the last many decades. Female actresses over 40 witnessed a kind of pre death, and their phones stopped ringing. In fact, Julianne Moore who took this last Oscar is only one of the 2 actresses over 50 to be named best actress ever. Oscar winners seem to be becoming a niche category of little films about big diseases lately. Popular films like American Sniper, Guardians of the Galaxy, Lego movie and Gone Girl aren’t making the grade anymore as Hollywood seems to be going the television way : wanting edifying and intimate dramas. The stories Hollywood is responding to aren’t always of youngsters on grand quests as it used to be, but of unsung heroes battling infirmities and encroaching death. Hence, Moore in Still Alice; Redmayne in Theory of Everything; Arquette in Boyhood, Keaton in Birdman and Simmons in Whiplash as a failed artist, while the latter two taking out their career frustrations in their colleagues and students. That’s a powerful narrative and obviously one which is Oscar worthy. Last year, Amour won best foreign language movie, but had a big Hollywood release. But perhaps that is because foreign audiences have no gripe with older actors the way Hollywood does. Rising actors are risky business overseas because they don’t want to be pigeon-holed into one particular genre. So they do rom coms, Indies, and action movies like Captain America, White House Down, and American Hustler and Bourne franchise. Amour’s star couple – Jean Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva – are in fact octogenarians, and  Best Exotic Marigold Hotel [parts one and two] by British John Madden feature all golden agers: Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson, Richard Gere, and Maggie Smith [from Harry Potter films] who is in her twilight year. Swedish Lasse Hallstrom’ s is another director who feature Helen Mirren who’ll be 70 in July and Om Puri who will be 65 this year in Hundred Foot Journey. Hollywood, too, has many examples of casting older actors:

  • Liam Neeson of the many Taken fame is 62
  • Sylvester Stallone is 68
  • Arnold Schwarzenegger is 62
  • Kevin Costner is 60
  • Michael Douglas is 70
  • Robert de Niro is 71
  • Harrison Ford is 73 in 3 months
  • Denzel Washington is 60
  • Morgan Freeman is 79 in June
  • Bruce Willis and Mel Gibson right behind, at 59

The list is long and can go on, but suffice it so say that all of the above actors are all still doing action movies, in leading roles, playing their own age, as wiser, older men with the history of their lives written and showing on their faces. Aging has never been a disease or hindrance for these male actors, but instead a source of wisdom and virility. In 1987, the 68 year old Danny Glover [Lethal Weapon] said “I’m too old for this s–t!”  Hollywood is ready to disagree with him, almost two decades after, and not a moment too soon. Schwarzenegger knew that age was just a number when he suggested that “retirement is for sissies!” in The Last Stand [2013]. Schwarzenegger is back this year in more Terminators, as is Harrison Ford who just played his age as William Jones in the Age of Adaline opposite Adaline who is an ageless, timeless beauty, but stuck at age 29 for 8 decades – exactly the way Hollywood likes to represents its women. In this ordering of older stars in Hollywood, one sex has been missing for long or not represented : the aging woman. More women need to populate the screen; they, too, have wisdom untapped. They’re all Adalines – beautiful and wise, but in their own bodies, not a 29 year old body. Hollywood [and other mainstream male-oriented and male-authored cinemas like Bollywood] should stop sending off aging actresses elsewhere and keep them at home. Their male actors don’t go outside Hollywood, but stay at home and play leading roles as dignified, intense, slippery, grouchy, playful etc, while the women take secondary roles. It is time that Maggie Smith and others come back to Hollywood from India and elsewhere with double their wisdom and oomph to take lead roles. To shake up and change the unrealistic image of the older woman as discarded, which Hollywood has made women, men, boys and girls interiorize for far too long.


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