According to San Diego State University’s Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film, only 12% of protagonists in the top 100 domestic grossing film are female (2014). This is below the mere 16% which was found in their 2002 study. This plummet in women lead protagonists is due to the fact that Hollywood is constantly seeking out younger actresses. And let’s face it they can. However, this idea of discrimination has potential to have a detrimental effect on more than just the actresses in Hollywood. It may start to become influential off screen as well. Thus, Hollywood has helped create the stereotype of ageism: an idea of age segregation within film.
Maggie Gyllenhaal at the meager and vital age of thirty-seven recently stated that she was turned down for a role. The reason being: Gyllenhaal was told that she was “too old” to play the love interest of a fifty-five year-old man. When asked how she felt about being told this, she responded:
“It made me feel bad, and then it made me feel angry, and then it made me laugh.”
It is easy to see why Gyllenhaal would be angry. The Hollywood double standard is seemingly in full swing on the topic of ageism. The entertainment industry appears to be placing a larger importance on Gyllenhaal’s age, rather than her acting abilities. And all the while her male counterparts are being given roles majorly based on their talent and status. The Golden Globe winning, Oscar nominated actress has nothing to prove, yet due to her age she is trying to be put into a box to fit a certain mold, that Gyllenhaal will not and should not subject herself to.
Sadly, this is not the first instance of ageism for Hollywood actress. An article for, The Vulture, discussed the young ages of leading ladies in film. There appears to be a major gap between leading men in comparison to the women playing their love interest.
Although the actors grow can older, their leading ladies seem to be getting younger in age. This is especially evident with actors such as Harrison Ford, who is nineteen years older than fellow actress Virginia Madsen in the film Firewall. Similar age gaps exist in the careers of George Clooney, Denzel Washington, and Johnny Depp. Thus, leaving less opportunity for actresses of a similar age.
The scale of leading roles still leans heavily in favor men, as it has always been in Hollywood. However these consistent instances of ageism for Hollywood actresses does little to improve the situation. The only way to change this is through the continued pressure from actresses and fans alike upon the entertainment industry to promote change, and the embracing of women of all ages, races, and backgrounds.
For more charts from the Vulture’s article, be sure to look at the following link