Russell Crowe has offered some helpful advice to older women struggling to be taken seriously by Hollywood: Stop complaining. Act your age. Stop expecting to be treated the same as older Hollywood men who have been successful through sheer hard work and raw talent (like me).
“To be honest, I think you’ll find that the woman who is saying that (the roles have dried up) is the woman who at 40, 45, 48, still wants to play the ingénue, and can’t understand why she’s not being cast as the 21 year old,” he said in an interview with Australian Women’s Weekly.
He seems to believe the reason older women don’t get cast in as many roles in Hollywood films as men is simply because they are refusing to play older characters. As if directors regularly approach them and say “Hey, I’ve got a great female lead in her 40s and you’d be perfect for it” and they just roll their eyes and say “No thanks, talk to me when you can offer me one of those great ingénue roles where I’ll get to play a young, clueless, preferably semi-naked woman with no real agency or substance whatsoever. Cheers”.
The first problem with this argument is that it reminds us that some men (mostly those who are consistently propped up by an industry they like to consider entirely meritocratic) still haven’t tired of the women don’t get jobs because they just don’t ask for them argument.
The second problem is that Crowe seems to be implying that Hollywood does not have an older woman problem. He is proposing the industry itself is not discriminatory (see above fantasy about meritocracy) but rather the problem is with the women themselves, who expect too much, and then won’t stop complaining when they don’t get famous.
Wrong. Hollywood does have an older woman problem. But it doesn’t stop there. Hollywood has an every-kind-of-woman problem.
Only 23% of films made in 2014 featured even one female protagonist. That is less than a quarter. Perhaps even worse, only 31% of all speaking roles in film last year were occupied by women. Only 10% of all films made had a remotely gender-balanced cast.
According to the New York Film Academy, the ratio of male actors to female actors is 2.25:1.
When it comes to the most successful Hollywood films (and, therefore, the most successful Hollywood actors and actresses), the numbers are worse still. Of the top 100 highest-grossing USfilms in 2014, only 15% of protagonists were women.
Hollywood’s women problem extends behind the scenes as well. In 2012, women directed, produced or wrote only 18% of the top 250 highest-grossing films.
So perhaps Russell Crowe could consider the possibility that older women don’t get cast in as many roles as older men because they didn’t get cast in as many roles as men when they were younger women, either. This problem is not age-specific, role-specific or film-specific. It is industry-wide and it is insidious.
Crowe even suggests that some of the few successful older actresses in Hollywood would agree with his merciless diagnosis:
“Meryl Streep will give you 10,000 examples and arguments as to why that’s bullshit, so will Helen Mirren, or whoever it happens to be. If you are willing to live in your own skin, you can work as an actor. If you are trying to pretend that you’re still the young buck when you’re my age, it just doesn’t work.”
(Notice we return to the meritocracy fantasy here: these particular women managed to be successful because they are particularly talented and hard working. One example of a successful woman equals no women problem.)
Wrong again. In 2010, Helen Mirren said “I’ve seen too many of my brilliant colleagues, who work non-stop in their 20s, their 30s, and their 40s, only to find a complete desert in their 50s, and no work means no income”. In 2009, Meryl Streep said women were “disdained” by Hollywood when they hit 40.
And finally, Crowe offers this:
“I have heard of an actress, part of her fee negotiation was getting the number of children she was supposed to have lessened. Can you believe this? This (character) was a woman with four children, and there were reasons why she had to have four children – mainly, she lived in a cold climate and there was nothing to do but fornicate all day – so quit arguing, just play the role!”
So, ladies, here’s the bottom line. Just be grateful when you get offered roles where all you do is “fornicate all day” and prop up leading male characters. Quit arguing. Just play the role.