Conversation Beyond Comedy: Ageism

The month of March has been premiere heavy with some of television’s best and most-anticipated shows. “Feud: Bette and Joan” debuted with 3.8 million viewers, Ryan Murphy’s highest-ranking premiere since “The People v O.J. Simpson.” Obvious to its title the show gives an in-depth look into the infamous feud between Bette Davis (Susan Sarandon) and Joan Crawford (Jessica Lange) during the production of “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane”

“Grace and Frankie,” which debuts on March 24, has garnered a wide audience of young and old with the help of Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin playing two recently divorced wives, grandmothers, mothers and now business women in the vibrators’ industry.

“Feud” is fabulous with its a-list cast, beautiful set and wardrobe, and a story that is so important to popular culture. And even by only watching the trailer of “Grace and Frankie,” how could you not already have the show programmed in your queue?

The age-old – scratch that – The age question that Hollywood continues to grapple with is astonishing. In a study done by USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, research found that “only 148 (11.8%) of the 1,256 speaking characters in 25 Best Picture-nominated movies (from 2014 to 2016) were 60 years of age or older.

The statistics don’t get any better for women. From the 2016 films that were observed, only four individuals were senior characters. As this study only took films into account and there wasn’t any current research done for television, the four leading actresses of “Feud” and “Grace and Frankie” have all spoken out against ageism in Hollywood.

Jane Fonda:

“Ageism is alive and well. It is OK for men to get older, because men become more desirable by being powerful. With women, it’s all about how we look. Men are very visual, they want young women. So, for us, it’s all about trying to stay young.” (via The Washington Post)

Jessica Lange:

“I think that a big part of the show is what Hollywood does to women, as they age, which is just a microcosm of what happens to women generally as they age, whether you want to say they become invisible or undesirable or unattractive,” she said, adding, “What happens when that beauty is no longer considered viable because it’s equated with youth?” (via CNN)

Susan Sarandon:

The line has been pushed. [But] aging actors still have the same problems. I can guarantee that.” (via Mashable)

Lily Tomlin:

“There are a lot of shows on HBO and Netflix and Showtime that deal with an older demographic. Maybe not older, but they are certainly more egalitarian in terms of dealing with people who are professionals in their forties and fifties…. So I think there’s a lot more attention being paid to deeper, more serious subjects with older protagonists. But I think we’re the only show totally devoted to the issue of aging and those complications.” (via Elle)

After listing these four strong female leads, it’s harder and harder for me to think of anyone else in that category that is a 60 plus AND a woman. So, yes, I will enjoy the campiness of “Feud” and the unparalleled chemistry between Fonda and Tomlin, but the conversation must not end. These women are no strangers to accolades, even in the years after 60, so who else and where else can we start changing the dialogue? Luckily, we have places like Netflix and people like Ryan Murphy for that.

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