Ageism VS Collaboration
Ageism runs rampant in the U.S. In many cultures the elderly are revered and loved, and here they are often cast aside as having outworn their value...especially in Hollywood, and its worse for women than for men. With ageism in filmmaking, we are wasting our greatest resources. We are missing out on deeply impactful stories coming, from someone with the gained wisdom of a life well-lived.
When I look back on my youth, I did feel like an old soul who came in with a certain amount of inner knowledge, but boy, are there things I still would have done differently if I knew then what I know now. This is not to discount the brilliant, fresh ideas and potent energy of youth, it is vital to society. Look at the students gathering and speaking up for safer gun laws. Yet, if our life is lived courageously, we will end up considerably wiser and more enlightened by the end of our journey, that is life! There are things you simply must learn through experience. You learn from where you put your priorities, from your relationships, the consequence of your choices and reaction to things that simply seem to happen in your life. You learn from your mistakes. You learn through joy, pain, gains, losses...and how you respond to them. Some never learn life’s lessons, and others gain insight after insight, acquiring tremendous wisdom. The latter is the reason why in many cultures, including the native American culture, the wise elders were the ones who were the storytellers, and who passed down their wisdom to the next generation. The youths who took to heart what these elders shared, and combined it with their own brilliance, avoided many of life’s most painful lessons, starting their own life journey from a more solid place. How incredibly ignorant and damaging it is, to keep that wisdom from being shared so often now.
I was late to a book publishing meeting not too long ago. There was only one seat left in the entire large room. As I sat down I noticed a book laid out on the table about the substantial benefits of collaborating with others. The author actually gave mathematical statistics on how dramatically it increases everyone’s effectiveness. Five people collaborating does not only increase those people’s effectiveness by five times, for example...it’s by many times more. Society needs both the intelligence of youth and the wisdom of the elders. When I think of the perfect collaboratory team it would be made up of a mix of the two groups... older wiser, and younger, filled with fresh ideas. Between these two groups positive change can happen. We need the youth to get us out of the rut and the wise elders to keep us from making avoidable mistakes.
There's tremendous power in story, it teaches us about life. We need a balanced mix of what the younger and older people bring to life, and to the films that reflect it. But therein lies the crux, at this point women of any age haven’t been allowed to direct and shape the stories. How differently we would depict the world and women in our films. For one thing female characters wouldn’t be so one-dimensional. Showing women in all their complexity would bring respect, understanding and healing. Allowing more women a voice in the directorial position, and working to raise the feminine energy back into balance on this planet, is to the benefit of both genders, as both energies reside in all of us. There’s no denying that there is a huge amount of imbalance and discord on the planet right now, and this energy being so out of whack is a key factor.
Ageism for men can’t be ignored either. Ageism, period, is the act of throwing away something precious and of great value, another reason the world is so out of whack. I’m not saying there aren’t old ignorant people out there, many of them are in positions of power. However, most people do become more empathetic and wiser as they get older.
Ageism doesn’t always look the same. I remember a friend of mine’s husband losing his job near the top of a corporation, not because they lost faith in his capabilities, he was at the top of his game. He was let go because they could hire someone younger for a fraction of what his salary was. He couldn’t find another company to hire him, even for jobs that he was actually over qualified for, likely because the guys at the top were afraid that he’d move up quick and eventually go after their position. So, he was simply aged out, though he was still a precious resource.
With older men in senior positions, I also believe they are looked at as selfish for not stepping down by the younger employees who covet that senior position, instead of seeing them as someone who still has much to contribute and therefore still wants to contribute. They are feeling it is their turn now and the guy needs to leave, instead of seeing the mentor they could learn from, while also bringing their fresh perspectives to the table.
Men also need to fear not being seen as, as much of a man if they loose their sexual virility. Thank you Hollywood for putting that pressure on by showing men 70 years old jumping from tall buildings in age-defying fetes.
For women the ageism is different and more insidious yet. The media has great power in creating the illusion that women somehow become broken after a certain age, but not men of the same age, because with women, much of their value is linked to their looks. In an NPR interview actress/director Sarah Polley states, “I feel like with young women, their bodies are constantly objectified and used in a sexual context. With older women, [their bodies are] constantly the butt of a joke. For me, the seminal scene that illustrates that is, in “About Schmidt”, when Kathy Bates gets into the hot tub and Jack Nicholson is horrified and the audience is supposed to scream.” She goes on... “I remember being so deeply offended by that scene. One of the first times you’re dealing with an older woman being naked in a movie — it doesn’t happen very often — and it’s the butt of a joke, or it’s supposed to horrifying.”
Now, let me point out that Jack Nicholson wasn’t physically youthful in that movie either by any stretch of the imagination. They were on the same playing field, yet he didn’t see it, and the audience wasn’t supposed to see it that way either. The guy was sitting in the hot tub in his old skin, acting appalled by the woman his own age.
Russell Crowe was to have said that women were the problem...that women would get more roles if they acted their age, which is a bit laughable and ignorant. Look at what they did to Kathy Bates character when she showed her age. It's also a fact that women find it hard, if not impossible, to get cast in any meaningful roles when they show these signs of aging. Liam Neeson, for example, is still jumping from building to building in his old age in endless series of "Taken" movies. As a guy, he is allowed these age-defying adventures. Usually if these male movie characters are married in the story, the wife characters get killed off, once they age, so they can be replaced with a new, younger version. Remember, at the time this article is being written, about 94% of the films are being directed by men. They create the stories. So now, since there are so few interesting, leading roles written for women past forty, of course women do what they can to look younger. I admire those who don't go to those lengths, like Debra Winger, but has anyone seen her in big movie roles since the 90's? How are the women somehow creating this problem, and what’s with the double standard?
For example, just 2 years ago Maggie Gyllenhaal revealed she was deemed “too old” at 37 to play the love interest of a 55-year-old man. I shake my head...yet, this is common in films. Age differences to in relationships are not a problem across the board. If they are wanting to show a genuine story of two people falling in love. But if it is the common standard for these films, way older male, younger female, then something is off. It becomes tiresome and silly to constantly watch these old guys with these girls. Show real life relationships here with beautiful women their own age, also doing amazing things. Or, perhaps a Hayley Mills and Firdous Bamji story. Her husband is 20 years younger than her and they have been married for 25 years! In the real world women are really coming into their own when they age. Outspoken actress Helen Mirren chimes in about the Maggie Gyllenhaal decision. “It’s fucking outrageous,” she said. “It’s ridiculous. And ’twas ever thus. We all watched James Bond as he got more and more geriatric, and his girlfriends got younger and younger.”
Helen Mirren said...that the fact that she is still considered sexual and beautiful isn’t as important to her as being powerful, and that is the flashlight illuminating the problem. The devaluing of women, which started already thousands of years ago, was likely not because anyone truly thought less of older women, but rather it was a fear-filled effort to keep them from moving into their power. False stories were made up about powerful women, such as Mary Magdalene, who was never a prostitute, to take away their power. Many of the women who did great things, are strangely never mentioned in our history books.
All in all, ageism of any gender deprives society of some of it's greatest resources. Older and wiser people with true life experiences, having made it through its joys, trials and tribulations, can help guide us into societal healing. Hollywood creates stories that are supposed to reflect life. It has helped create a legacy of distorting the frame through which we view the world instead. We have everything to gain by opening doors so more people can contribute again, regardless of race, gender or age. I believe the health of the planet depends on us utilizing the gifts that each one of us brings to the table, in collaboration. It's going to take all of us. If we keep idolizing only the youth, we are destined to keep repeating the same mistakes in different ways, instead of ascending the ladder of wisdom. Collaboration between the young and the wise elders is needed to break that cycle. We are running out of time to heal this planet. If we don't start ascending that ladder of wisdom, while taking appropriate action along the way, humanity won't make it.