All I know is that first you’ve got to get mad. You’ve got to say, ‘I’m a human being, God damn it! My life has value!’ So I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window. Open it, and stick your head out, and yell, ‘I’M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!’ – Network
Women are people too, or so I’ve heard. We are more than just product, more than just boner fodder, more than just support networks to promote the smarter, stronger males. You would never know that, of course, by the way Hollywood hums along as though nothing is wrong – everybody’s still getting rich so what’s the problem? The problem is that women have become decoration, safety nets, where sexual confidence is confused with strength in characters. Strong women means sexually confident women. But these women, when you really dissect who and what they are, exist merely to inspire, seduce, make-better their male counterparts, for whom a whole spectrum of the human experience is allowed. We can’t keep our faces from aging (and when we do we become even more frightening). We can’t buy our youth back (we can try – to the tune of billions of dollars per year). We can’t stop the full spectrum of the male gaze from preferring the fresher, younger among us. The dick wants what it wants.
And so it is with this that Kristin Scott Thomas finally got the message and decided to stop badgering the industry and the public – she just decided to hang it up, like so many do, so many who just say nothing but drift around at parties looking sort of familiar, almost famous but yet too old. There are the exceptions – Sandra Bullock in Gravity. What a brave choice by Cuaron to defy the studios and have Bullock play a scientist fighting her way back to earth. Judi Dench, Helen Mirren, Meryl Streep, Maggie Smith – the mostly British invasion (save Streep) are given more opportunities to age. In the UK they extend sexuality to the old among us. But in the US, if you want to work on Hollywood films, forget it. This article posted on Women and Hollywood:
“I just suddenly thought, I cannot cope with another film,” she told The Guardian. “I realised I’ve done the things I know how to do so many times in different languages, and I just suddenly thought, I can’t do it any more. I’m bored by it. So I’m stopping.”
Unsurprisingly, Scott Thomas is frustrated by the narrow spectrum of roles she is offered as an “aging actress.” She doesn’t want to play the “sad middle-aged woman” anymore: “[I’m] asked to do the same things over and over, because people know you can do that, so they want you to do that. But I just don’t want to pretend to be unhappy anymore — and it is mostly unhappy.”
She adds, “I’m often asked to do something because I’m going to be a sort of weight to their otherwise flimsy production. They need me for production purposes, basically. So they give me a little role in something where they know I’m going to be able to turn up, know what to do, cry in the right place. I shouldn’t bite the hand that feeds, but I keep doing these things for other people, and last year I just decided life’s too short. I don’t want to do it anymore.”
There might be a small surfeit of roles for elderly actresses like Maggie Smith and Judi Dench (who never seem to stop working, thank goodness), but the film industry has little need for women in their fifties, except to play moms. Scott Thomas notes, “I’m sort of, as the French would say, ‘stuck between two chairs’, because I’m no longer 40 and sort of a seductress, and I’m not yet a granny.”
A great illustration of her professional plight is The Invisible Woman, the 2013 film directed by and starring Ralph Fiennes about Charles Dickens’ much younger mistress. Back in 1996, the 53-year-old Scott Thomas and the 51-year-old Fiennes played lovers in The English Patient. In The Invisible Woman, Scott Thomas played the motherof Fiennes’ love interest, played by 30-year-old Felicity Jones.
We women have been conditioned to value youth over all things because somewhere along the way, after the 1970s and some of the 1980s, women stopped bitching in large numbers about it. Why does Hillary Clinton not care about such things? Because she’s an old school feminist. She was raised by voices that continually challenged the status quo. She was a young women when Ellen Burstyn, Jane Fonda, Shelly Duvall, Sissy Spacek, Glenda Jackson, Katharine Hepburn were all monstrous forces in Hollywood. But then something happened. Blockbusters happened. Television happened. Julia Roberts happened. Things changed for women in film. If you weren’t a youthful tsunami like Roberts, who appealed to both men and women, you were not likely to control the box office and thus, not likely to headline movies. The bottom line dictated that all films, animated or live action, make more money when they star men and boys because men and boys are the ticket buyers.
Jennifer Lawrence follows in Roberts’ footsteps. She is exactly the kind of female Hollywood wants and needs. She was 22 in Silver Linings Playbook – where the character in the book was much older. She’s 23 in American Hustle where the real character she played was closer to 50. And suicidal. How can we expect anyone to understand that women have value as they age if we pretend that all of that content one gains with age can be magically inserted into the body of a 22 year-old? It can’t. The lines on our faces are from the expressions and experiences we’ve had and collected over time. They represent the glorious lives we’ve lived. Why should that be something to be erased continually? Sure, we can’t be boner fodder anymore but what else could we be? We’re on the brink of perhaps having the first female president – that’s something we could be. Frozen offers us Disney princesses who save themselves, one of whom doesn’t need a prince at all to define her character. We can be astronauts, thanks to Gravity. We can be imperfect like Melissa McCarthy and bring two films past the $100 million mark. Hollywood, give us a chance to be real people, not just fluffers for your aging peens. I promise you won’t regret it. We do have stuff to actually, you know, say?
Thing is, it isn’t just the male gaze that drives dollars towards young women. These young actresses are bringing in hoards of young women who follow Lawrence because of Hunger Games and Kristen Stewart because of Twilight. That’s fantastic. Perhaps this will eventually launch a new wave of actresses who control the box office and therefore regain their footing in Hollywood. But something tells me that won’t be the case. Still, here’s hoping these young actresses have room to grow, and age, and not be discarded for the younger ones, always the younger and younger ones, coming down the pike.
Worse, the films this year that displayed strong older females – Saving Mr. Banks, The Butler and August: Osage County got the film snobbery treatment from the critics groups and that meant they weren’t herded into the pen by the cool kids and that meant they were mostly shut out of the Oscar race. What remained were films that fit more comfortably into the status quo, all save two – Philomena and Gravity. In all except those two, the films are mostly about what happens to the central male figure. I give a major pass to some of them – like 12 Years, which fits into the film the plight of several key females and is, in its own way, much more about women as victims than it is about the men. Nebraska, which has June Squibb, and The Wolf of Wall Street which, at least, lampoons the very paradigm we’re talking about. Women tend to appreciate that movie more than men because men are used to being coddled by Hollywood films. Women get to point at it and say, yep.
As for Ms. Kristin Scott Thomas, I cannot say I blame her. Who would want to go around struggling just for a small part in some movie where she’s going to be ignored anyway? There is a whole life to be lived out there. Death is never too far off for any of us, unfortunately. I hope she decides to write, produce and direct.
Whenever I meet actresses at festivals or parties I always tell them the same thing. Start making movies — and not movies about relationships. We have stories to tell that don’t involve those fabulous dudes we are too often distracted by. We are more than just mothers, girlfriends, wives, grandmothers, mistresses. We are teachers, senators, activists, doctors, superheroes, bosses, artists, and yeah, we will one day be presidents. Hollywood needs to catch up is all.