For almost two hours, we’d had our eyes opened—to what women our age have been able to accomplish through their wisdom and persistence, to how even the most successful women can be plagued by insecurities, to what we can accomplish by supporting one another.
Then the last speaker asked us to close our eyes.
“Look inside to what you want, and bring it forward,” Denise Kaufman, the bass player for the Ace of Cups band, said to the audience. “Something that may have been on the back burner.” Kaufman wrapped her hands around a harmonica and blew a bluesy, almost gospel-like tune. We in the audience were swaying in our seats, eyes closed as instructed. When Kaufman finished, we rose to our feet in cheers.
“Now we need to give each other hugs,” Kaufman shouted.
This was a fitting, grounding end to a dynamic event called “Screw Invisibility: Watch Grown-Ass Women Run The Show.” It was NextTribe’s fourth Out Loud program, the first in Los Angeles. The speakers came mostly from the entertainment industry; they talked about how they’ve taken on ageism and sexism in Hollywood and how the rise of experienced older women in TV and films was affecting perceptions of growing older across the country. A portion of every ticket sold at the Out Loud event was donated to the nonprofit organization Green Light Women, an alliance of accomplished creative and business professionals 40 and over whose mission is to champion women and promote diverse perspectives in media.
Finger on the Pulse and in the Air
While NextTribe delivers provocative, thoughtful stories for women in the 45-plus age range to read on the website, editor and co-founder Jeannie Ralston has expanded the brand into in-real-life events, such as travel and the Out Loud series.
“I hope more women will advocate for themselves and say in words and actions, ‘Screw Invisibility.'”
The afternoon started off with Ralston giving a finger to “the beast that has beat women with the youth and beauty stick for decades,” meaning the Hollywood obsession with dewy starlets and making midlife women invisible. Ralston is a tireless advocate for getting rid of old cultural stereotypes and expectations surrounding how women in midlife and beyond should behave or look or think.
Ralston noted that one of the traits that many women in the over-45 demographic develop is not caring as much about what others think. “I hope more women will use that to advocate for themselves and say in words and actions, ‘Screw Invisibility,’”she says.
“When I turned 40, I felt like this huge bell went off in a Hollywood. Ding, ding! ‘Michelle can’t be a cop anymore. She can’t run.’ It was insane!”
The speakers shared stories about their personal journeys, which often had challenges that impeded their success. Still, these badass women found a way to break through. Here are some highlights of the day.
- Pamela Redmond, author of the bestselling novel Younger, the basis for the hit Darren Star TV series, told of how she got her own reinvention after writing the book. She published her first novel, created her first website, got divorced, moved from New Jersey to Los Angeles, and changed her name from Pamela Redmond Satran, all after the age of 50.
- In order to age boldly and passionately, producer Lillah McCarthy stressed the importance of self care and really being aware of what you want to accomplish in your next chapter of life. “If you take care of your mental and physical self you can do anything you want, knowing that we have a finite amount of time left, figure out what you want to do with your life and go for it.”
- Annabelle Gurwitch—a comedian, actress, and bestselling author, plus a veteran of three Out Loud events—sees events such as these as a start to a whole other level of interacting. “I truly hope that all of these events are really a way of starting a dialogue together. We are just beginning the conversation that I hope we will all continue. Something I really felt strongly about, as I move from my career as an actress to a writer, is that we have to focus on the fact that we are a community, not a competition.”
- “When I turned 40, I felt like this huge bell went off in a Hollywood. Ding, ding! ‘Michelle can’t be a cop anymore. She can’t run, she has to be a captain or a boss.’ It was insane!” declared Michelle Hurd, a TV and film actress who was recently cast in the new CBS All Access series Star Trek: Picard with Patrick Stewart. Hurd has always taken pride in being an artist and having a point of view. “I don’t look like a typical Hollywood pretty girl. I was never interested in that kind of stuff. I am interested in strong women roles that have levity and power. I have actress friends in the business who were once the ingenue and are struggling now, not understanding why they are no longer getting hired.”
- Cindy Chupack, an Emmy and Golden Globe winning screenwriter who served as writer and executive producer on HBO’s Sex and the City series, talked about the experience of being a first-time director of the new Netflix film Otherhood, which is premiering this summer. The movie was postponed because of star Felicity Huffman’s unfortunate involvement in the college admissions cheating scandal. “No matter what you have accomplished it takes a lot to get over your insecurities and have courage; there was so much I felt I didn’t know,” Chupack acknowledged about her first directing effort. The veteran screenwriter took an all-day directing workshop at the Director’s Guild, talking with other participants, which helped her feel confident about taking on the project. “It helped me realize how we seem to concentrate on the one thing we don’t know, versus all the things we do know,” Chupack said.
- Lamenting the lack of women in executive positions in corporate America, Sandra Dewey—the president of TBS and TNT Business Operations, WarnerMedia—talked about the importance of mentoring and having supportive female colleagues at the office. “Sometimes it’s really lonely to be a woman at these places. You are fighting the fight and trying to make it meaningful for everyone and make progress, in addition to doing these jobs which can really be hard. But when you are doing it with someone it really makes a huge difference.”
- As a passionate producer who will go to the mat to defend creative choices, Debbie Liebling, the producer of the Simpsons and now Pen15, knows she sometimes gets the “difficult” label—while a man who did the same would never be disparaged. But she knows from experience when it’s worth throwing down for a project. “I get a physical feeling in my body when I think something’s going to work,” she says. “Debbie has a producer-gasm,” quipped Annabelle Gurwitch, on stage with Liebling.
“I wanted women to leave the event feeling energized and inspired about what lies ahead for them in this next chapter—to feel heard and seen and understood,” Ralston stressed. “That’s powerful. We’re at the edge of a sea change in how the culture views women over 45, and that is, in large part, to how women in the entertainment industry are taking control of what we see on television, the streaming networks, and film.”
“No matter what you have accomplished it takes a lot to get over your insecurities and have courage.”
Ralston is excited to see women over 45 being presented as “much more complex and interesting” characters,” with lots of adventures, joys, and successes ahead of them.
“To be no longer be invisible, I think women our age need to assert themselves and be LOUD about who they are and how rich their lives are. Don’t allow yourself to be dismissed or sidelined. Don’t self-exclude, with thoughts that you won’t be taken seriously or that this isn’t what women of this age do.”
Michelle Hurd said much the same thing when we talked to her after the event. “I hope the takeaway, at least from my perspective and what I hope I conveyed, was to empower women to stand up, speak out, embrace their power, and continue to grow and explore all the things they can do in this life, no matter what age!”
All photos by Amy Tierney
Susan L. Hornik is a veteran entertainment and lifestyle journalist. She is an expert at making lemonade from lemons.