Grace Kelly and Jimmy Stewart

It reads like an outtake from Amy Schumer’s fuckability video, but it isn’t. From the Guardian:

Maggie Gyllenhaal was told by a Hollywood producer that she was too old, at 37, to play the love interest of a 55-year-old man, the Oscar-nominated actor has revealed.

Let me explain. She’s “too old” to play the role of the woman inserted into the movie solely to show that the protagonist dude is 1. straight and 2. normal. The reason she is “too old” to play that part is that 37 x 2=74 and the man is only 55. It’s a law of Hollywood that the token woman there to show the protagonist man’s straight normality has to be no more than half his age.

Why? Well, because she’s there to show that he’s normal, and normal men are repulsed by women who are more than half their age.

The commonplace practice of casting a much younger female against a much older male has been prevalent since Hollywood’s golden age: Kim Novak was half the 50-year-old James Stewart’s age during filming of 1958’s Vertigo.

I can think of one or two other examples, as well.

However, Hollywood finds itself under increasing scrutiny in 2015 for failing to represent women fairly on screen and behind the cameras. Earlier this month, the American Civil Liberties Union announced it would demand that state and federal agencies investigate why major studio regularly fail to hire aspiring and seasoned female directors for movies, citing “rampant discrimination” in the industry. Meanwhile, a report by the Center for the Study of Women in Television, Film & New Media at San Diego State University found that female actors took just 12% of leading roles in the top 100 domestic-grossing films of 2014.

I’m surprised they got that many.

At the Cannes film festival earlier this week, the makers of drug-war thriller Sicario revealed they had at one stage been under pressure from producers to rewrite the lead role, a female FBI agent played by Emily Blunt, to make the character male.

Of course they were. Because people are men. Women are flukes, weirdos, oddities – they’re not the comfortable, familiar, unworrying default. It’s just way safer and more appealing to have men for all the characters except in the few cases where you want a flukey weirdo.

Gyllenhaal told The Wrap that despite her recent experience – she did not name the production nor the older male star – she remained hopeful that Hollywood was slowly becoming a better place for women to work. “A lot of actresses are doing incredible work right now, playing real women, complicated women,” she said. “I don’t feel despairing at all. And I’m more looking with hope for something fascinating.”

Uh huh. Because I’m not 37 but 137, I know people have been saying this since 1970. That’s a long time for it to fail to happen.


  1. says

    Yeah, it’s incredibly frustrating as a cinema enthusiast to experience how sexist Hollywood is. I can only imagine how much worse it is for women actually working in that setting. How can a woman be too old when she is young enough to be the actor’s daughter? It’s completely ridiculous.

  2. iknklast says

    In real life, a lot of men actually like older women. My son (32) married a woman who is older than I am! He doesn’t think women are washed up at 37; his wife is 62.

  3. Lady Mondegreen says

    Three of the top five movies out now are woman-centered; including the top two.

    Of course it could be a fluke. We’ve had good years before, followed by no real change. I’ll never forget 1991–Silence of the Lambs AND Thelma and Louise!

  4. chrislawson says

    I’m not sure Vertigo is the best example to use since it’s portrayed as a hugely dysfunctional relationship, especially on Stewart’s side, and without giving away spoilers, was never a natural romance. There are plenty of much better examples.

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