How Hollywood is finally realising the value of older women

Written by Leah Sinclair

“We’re beginning to see a transition in Hollywood, where older, established women are beginning to truly see the fruits of their labour and get the praise and success they deserve,” writes Leah Sinclair.

When it comes to society and the many changes we experience over the years, there are a few things that remain consistent – and one of them is the constant sexism and ageism experienced by women across all industries.

It’s something that many women face, but in particular women who work in the entertainment industry, where just as much value is placed on their age and looks as their talent.

It only takes a quick scan of Google to discover the number of talented actors who’ve spoken about this very issue.

In January, actor Geena Davis, who also founded the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, described ageism in Hollywood as “very strange and so prevalent” while adding that women don’t get cast much, particularly as the love interest, past the age of 40 or 50 because the men they act against want to come across as younger.  

Fellow actors like Maggie Gyllenhaal and Cameron Diaz have been vocal about the ageism they’ve seen and experienced, with Diaz stating that she knew turning 40 would mean she’d be seen as “no longer valuable” in her career. 

But in a surprising turn of events, we’re beginning to see a transition in Hollywood, where older, established women are beginning to see the fruits of their labour and get the praise and success they deserve – and it’s truly the middle-aged woman renaissance that we’ve all been waiting to see.

This career renaissance among older actors is allowing us to see women who have been stalwarts throughout their careers finally get the shine placed on them for their extraordinary work and further proves something we already know: that women only get better with age and that it really is never too late.

This has been amplified by a few women actors who have stepped into the spotlight with poise, class, grace and an air of fabulousness that we can only hope to command when we’re in our middle-aged era – starting with Angela Bassett.

Bassett’s reputation and talent is one that has stood the test of time. From recent roles such as the iconic Tina Turner in this year’s What’s Love Got to Do With It to roles throughout the 90s as Katherine Jackson in The Jacksons: An American Dream (of which Keke Palmer does a great impression), Waiting To Exhale and How Stella Got Her Groove Back, the celebrated actor has consistently worked for decades in the industry and gained the admiration and respect of peers and fans alike. 

Despite the respect she commands, Bassett has historically been labelled as “underrated” throughout her career – but now, at the age of 64, she has been nominated for a Golden Globe for her rousing performance in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, which is seeing everyone shower the star with praise.

“Angela Bassett deserves the recognition she is getting for Wakanda Forever. The theatre shook with energy over her majesty and indignant fury. Amazing performance,” commented one fan, while another said, “Angela Bassett deserves every damn nomination for Black Panther.”

This celebration of Bassett’s continued success is layered when we bear in mind the difficulties many Black women actors face in Hollywood to avoid typecasting and to get leading roles with budgets like Wakanda Forever.

The fact that Bassett is in her renaissance era is a testament to her talent but also the respect she commands among her peers. And she’s not alone, as several other actors are also receiving the critical acclaim they deserve, like Sheryl Lee Ralph.

The actor, who I affectionately remember watching play Dee Mitchell on Moesha (90s babies stand up!), has been working in Hollywood since the 1970s, appearing in a wide range of television shows includingGood Times, Wonder Woman and The Jeffersons to broadway productions including Dreamgirls and First Wives Club

But when she was cast in the role ofBarbara Howard, an old-school kindergarten teacher in Abbott Elementary, her notoriety skyrocketed, earning her a Primetime Emmy Award for outstanding supporting actress in a comedy series (the second Black woman to ever win the award), an appearance in Rihanna’s 2022 Savage x Fenty show and a 2023 Golden Globe nomination.

Many have shared their excitement for Ralph’s rising success, proving that despite having worked in the industry for as long as she has, her brilliance knows no end.

“I hope this outpouring of love to Sheryl Lee Ralph is like a tangible reminder that we really DO see her, HAVE seen her all this time,” commented one Twitter user. “So many smaller roles or forgotten shows and yet I can’t think of a singular sub par performance. And each did something for the people cheering now.”

“Sheryl Lee Ralph is 65.She never stopped working and she never gave up,” another said. “This moment for her is BEYOND inspiring… I’m still weepy. And what a beautiful, wisdom-filled speech.”

And the middle-aged woman renaissance doesn’t stop there. Beloved actor Jennifer Coolidge is another who has warmed hearts and made us laugh time and time again over the years, and is seemingly having her moment right now after appearing in everything from The Watcher to The White Lotus.

In an interview, Coolidge discussed how she had previously been typecast in certain kinds of roles, stating that she was “in this weird bubble for a really long time” and why it’s important to “hold out and not just keep repeating yourself”. 

Coolidge’s career renaissance serves as a reminder that breaking out of the typecast box is always a struggle for women actors.

But the success of Coolidge, Ralph, Bassett and many other middle-aged women in Hollywood proves that once they are able to break out of that box, there is an exciting world that awaits them, which no longer places their age on a pedestal.

Instead, their talent, longevity and loyal fanbase truly shine and serve as a poignant reminder that life can surprise you when you least expect it.

Image: Getty

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