More than 100 British actors and public figures are asking the entertainment industry to end gendered ageism and the onscreen disparities and underrepresentation of women over age 45 via an open letter calling for equal gender representation.
Signatories of the open letter by The Acting Your Age Campaign (AYAC), founded by disparities advocate Nicky Clark, include Emma Thompson (Howards End, Sense and Sensibility), Liam Neeson (Schindler’s List, Taken), Keeley Hawes (The Body Guard, The Durrells), Hugh Bonneville (Downton Abbey, Notting Hill), Juliet Stevenson (Bend It Like Beckham, Queens of Mystery), Meera Syal (Goodness Gracious Me, The Kumars at No. 42), David Tennant (Doctor Who, Broadchurch), Zawe Ashton (Fresh Meat, Velvet Buzzsaw), and Lesley Manville (The Crown, Secrets & Lies).
The letter, called a “parity pledge” by AYAC, noted that ageism targeting women is “an entrenched industry staple which is outdated, harmful and neglects the millions of audiences who appreciate seeing women over 45 telling the stories of our lives.”
Emphasizing the extreme gender inequality seen for women actors over the age of 45, the AYAC noted that these disparities are not only seen in significant differences in role prevalence compared to males of the same age but in content that is more prone to depict older women using negative stereotypes— something that young male and female filmmakers may perpetuate.
“This isn’t an attack on artistic freedom. This is highlighting that too often, excluding older women is enabled through the cloak of artistic choices.”
Other current initiatives are also actively trying to change the content landscape featuring the important voices of older women, but it has proven a challenging task within a culture that is more apt to portray older men as wise and desirable and older women as disposable. The Writers Lab US, and the Writers Lab UK & Ireland, writers workshops for women and non-binary writers over 40, seek to address these disparities by giving selected applicants the opportunity to work on their material with established female mentors in the industry. This type of initiative may be exactly what the industry needs but with approximately 12 writers selected per workshop to participate, that’s not even close to touching the tip of a barely melting iceberg. AYAC’s open letter highlights the multitude of disparities in the UK while asking for high profile endorsements.
AYAC says, “Currently on screen in the U.K. men have a whole life and women only a shelf life.” The open letter highlights nine recommendations for the industry including those that extend beyond the screen like celebrity-driven entertainment news.
Recommendations include fictional content with 50:50 gender and age representation including romantic and platonic leads, and 50:50 age and gender parity as a means of combatting the older men and young women pairing that is often used to satisfy gender parity in programming while excluding women over 45. Also recommended is that celebrity-based entertainment news feature women and men over 45 equally in terms of achievements and that obituaries of women should use recent photographs as is typically done for men.
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