The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
I love movies. They’re the bread and butter of my dimly-lit evening as I cuddle up in my soft bed with some snacks in hand. They take you away to faraway places where your imagination runs wild, and usually reflect core ideas of our current society, which is why I want to talk about the underrated participation of women in their 50’s (and beyond) in cinema history. Meryl Streep, the most celebrated actress in Hollywood with an impressive award count, some of them being multiple Oscars and Academy Awards nominations, has recalled many times how she thought her acting career was over as soon as she turned 40. This should come as no surprise since Hollywood seems to favor younger women in their 20’s and older men in their 30’s, 40’s and even 50’s. She’s battling the sexist assumption that viewers dislike older women as protagonists and love interests, hence, rebalancing the gender climate in Hollywood. I’m all for it considering the fact that it’s important we tell stories from the point of view of more diverse folk, especially when we’re running out of fresh ideas and unique storylines. Besides, it’s weird watching a couple act romantic towards each other when the man clearly looks like he could be the father, or grandfather, of his love interest, and it’s no secret that most of the movies we’re consuming portray this specific dynamic. Strangely enough, I’ve also noticed that when the plot of the film revolves around the characters traveling into the future, the men look accurately older but their spouse still looks suspiciously young with badly-applied wrinkle makeup, like in the case of the final scene in Click (2006) and the portrayal of Natasha Romanoff’s mom and dad in Black Widow (2021).
Have you also noticed that the concept of evil almost always implies older? Why are the princesses routinely young and beautiful? While these well-meaning characters are famous for acting out the roles of little rays of sunshine that everyone loves, the female villains are usually old, generally despised and mean-looking. It’s a cliché that’s evidently pretty hard to shake off. I truly root for cinematic representations of graceful and radiant old women, like in the case of Madame Adelaide Bonfamille from Aristocats (1970). She’s such a joy to watch in motion, twirling around and treating herself like the most gorgeous woman in the whole wide world (looking magnificent as she does so, if I do say so myself).
It’s important to showcase the value of all women, and not just the ones who possess youthful looks and the doe-eyed perspective of reality. It’s also essential we keep in mind that mature actresses can bring to life characters that otherwise would be cast aside in our cultural landscape: the wise women, our awe-inspiring mothers and grandmothers, the women who have traveled all their lives collecting tales that you couldn’t even fathom, the badass battle-hardened warriors that experienced what many women couldn’t but would’ve loved to, and the seductive sirens that keep enthralling whoever comes in contact with them, but are promptly glazed over by men that won’t admit that older women can be beautiful too. The likes of Sarah Connor in Terminator: Dark Fate (2019), Margaret Thatcher in Iron Lady (2011), Laurie Strode in Halloween (2018), Eva and Maddie in Wild Oats (2016), and Aibeleen with her partner Minny in The Help (2011), make us realize that there’s a hidden goldmine of potential for innovative story-telling within acting roles of older women.
These characters are explicitly and perfectly played by women in their 40’s and beyond (from the first to the last movie mentioned above, they’re portrayed by Linda Hamilton [65 years old], Meryl Streep , Jamie Lee Curtis , Shirley Maclaine , Jessica Lange , Viola Davis , and Octavia Spencer ), and I wouldn’t have it any other way. They’re all great movies and most of them are critically acclaimed, which opens a lot of opportunities for women of all ages. Even the ones who are less known have what it takes to entertain and teach us quite a few lessons. It would be wonderful to live in an era where taking the spotlight as an older actress is as normal as watching Superman flying through the skies in one of his movies. I’m sure I’ll experience the cultural awakening someday, as long as women have each other’s backs.