It occurred to me the other day that the entertainment industry is finally starting to treat women the way they treat men. On screen, at least. In specific instances. And it’s about frickin’ time.
Movies and TV shows have a terrible habit of pairing craggy old men with much younger women. For decades, we’ve just accepted it. In Terms of Endearment, we all knew it was insane of Shirley MacLaine’s character to expect to have a relationship with the one played by Jack Nicholson. (She IS three years older, after all.) In As Good As It Gets, Helen Hunt and Jack had a 26 year age gap. (Hunt won an Academy Award for believably playing that she fell for Jack!) Harrison Ford always paired up with much younger women. Just a few years ago, Maggie Gyllenhaal was told she was too old (at 37) to play the on-screen the love interest of a 55-year old man.
Here’s my evidence that things are changing. Annie Potts, Mee-maw on Young Sheldon, is 62. Her character is single, sexual, and doesn’t want to get married again. (This show is set in the late 80s and early 90s)
Oscar winner Octavia Spencer stars in a new movie this week, called Ma. Spencer is black, and not rail thin. She’s an exquisite actress and she’s carrying this movie. That’s rare air.
But the best example of all is Netflix’s Grace & Frankie. Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin, two women in their 80s, believably play a decade younger. They cope with sudden singlehood; dating, flirting, kissing and more. In one episode, Fonda leaped into the arms of an ex-con like she was 18! Tomlin is truly laugh-out-loud hilarious. Unlike most women of a certain age, they aren’t playing nutty fringe characters – they are the stars. The men in their lives are secondary. *faint* Production of season six is underway.
Why should we care about what film and TV producers do with female characters? Because watching women who are complete beings leads viewers to believe the rest of us might be as well. It won’t happen overnight, but it will help. Women become invisible after about age 50. Sisters, do you feel it?! But we are interesting, funny, complicated, smart creatures.
The work is far from done. But I see this bit of evidence as progress. You can point to shows of the past and say we’ve already been there. The Golden Girls. The Gilmore Girls. Orange is the New Black. But this feels different somehow. It’s less of a gimmick and more of a case of, it just is.
I once said this about a disrespectful and dismissive younger boss: “He doesn’t want to boink me, so he doesn’t know how to talk to me”. Sadly, that’s a problem women face in various aspects of our lives. Here’s news fellas, we don’t want to boink you either! But we can see your value. We just want you to see ours.