We’ve been saying for some time that women our age aren’t reflected well in Hollywood. We’ve written stories calling for more film and TV shows that feature older women on screen in realistic ways, and of course we’re not the only ones who have recognized the problem.
A new study released Tuesday by the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media at Mount Saint Mary’s University finds that women of a certain age group are relegated to supporting roles in films, “serving as scenery in younger people’s stories.” or are consistently portrayed as grumpy, frumpy or worse. (Top photo is Sally Field in Hello, My Name is Doris, which did a terrible job of representing women in the 45-plus age group.)
Only one in four films passed what the institute calls the Ageless Test, which has two criteria for passing. The film must have at least one female character who is 50-plus who matters and is tied into the plot in such a way that their removal would have significant effect. The character must be presented in humanizing ways and not reduced to ageist stereotypes.
Stereotypes on Screen
The top grossing 2019 films from the U.S., U.K., France and Germany were analyzed for the study, and the results are not pretty. No women over 50 were cast in leading roles in 2019’s top films, while two men over 50 were featured as leads. And when older women did get some time on screen, they were at their most stereotypical (stubborn, 33 percent; unattractive, 17 percent; grumpy, 32 percent; unfashionable, eighteen percent).
“Given that adults 50-plus are 20 percent of our global population, we need to not only include diverse adults 50-plus in our stories, but also show them having full lives in order to de-stigmatize the stereotypes around aging,” said Davis in a statement.
Not surprisingly, the study reports that older men get off easier than women. Females make up only 25 percent of characters over 50, compared to 75 percent for men, the study found. Even worse, but again not earth-shattering news, is that women over 50 are more than twice as likely to be shown as physically unattractive, more likely to be depicted as lonely (19 percent) and homebound (16 percent) than males.
Women in Movies Test: The NextTribe Solution
The Geena Davis Institute calls for content creators to get beyond stereotypes for women in this age group. We can help creators with ideas. Not only have we helped women over 45 get their ideas for TV shows to a producer, we offer some guidelines here.
The over-45 women in an entertainment production should talk about something other than their spouse, kids or home. They should have interests beyond a fixation with their aging body or fading looks. And don’t show them getting all flustered over technology for a few laughs. It’s not funny, and less real than younger people imagine.
Show older women dressing stylishly (because we do–when we’re not cooped up at home during a pandemic) and doing something physically challenging, such as hiking with friends or competing in a marathon, because that truly does happen. All. The. Time. And stay away from turning an over-45 sex life into a punch line. Again, not funny and it shows a very lame imagination. We can all do better.