Notes on News: The latest blow against Maggie Gyllenhaal reveals the cold hard truth of Hollywood misogyny

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In an interview with The Wrap, Hollywood actress Maggie Gyllenhaal revealed that she had recently been turned down for a role by Hollywood executives because of her age. The role in question required Gyllenhaal, 37, to act as the love interest opposite a 55 year-old man, but casting directors deemed her “too old” for the part. Speaking candidly about the incident, Gyllenhaal – who recently won a Golden Globe for her performance in the BBC drama series The Honorable Woman – described the rejection as “astonishing.”

“It made me feel bad, and then it made me feel angry, and then it made me laugh”.

In the current climate, the way female filmmakers and actresses are treated in their own industry certainly is astonishing – and depressing to boot. Female directors come in few numbers as it is, and even fewer are recognised by mammoth institutions like The Academy. Need we forget that the only time a female director (Kathryn Bigelow) has ever won an Oscar was as recently as 2010? Even now, similarly prestigious organizations like the Cannes Festival are refusing entry to female patrons who aren’t wearing heels on their red carpets. And that’s just the women behind the scenes.

For the women onscreen, Hollywood can be just as horribly conceited. When a Hollywood actress is young and beautiful, she is generally celebrated and plastered on every screen, billboard and magazine there is. You need only look at the magazine aisle in your local supermarket to see that the majority of covers are filled with the likes of Emma Watson, Jennifer Lawrence and Margot Robbie. All talented actresses, all beautiful and all under 30. It would be foolish to contend that beauty – and sex – doesn’t sell, because it does. On a massive scale. But what is puzzling – and ultimately quite demeaning – is Hollywood’s assumption that women approaching 40 are past that.

When looking at Gyllenhaal’s case in particular, it just seems absurd. A 37 year-old actress too old to play the lover of a man almost 20 years her senior? And more to the point, this is a (as yet unknown) movie that has no qualms about casting a 55 year-old actor, but turns down an actress under the age of 40? It sounds ludicrous, but that’s how the industry currently works. There is a ruthless sense of both ageism and sexism that – for all the recent feminist breakthroughs in cinema – has yet to be beaten.

Even looking at the few older actresses who have maintained a career onscreen, the struggle is rife. Not even the Queen of the silver screen herself is without prejudice; Meryl Streep has earned more Oscar nominations than any other actress, and yet like Gyllenhaal, she faced a number of trials upon hitting middle age. It’s a well known anecdote that the year she turned 40, Streep was offered three roles in complete succession – all of which, were witches. Streep’s reading of that was bluntly and painfully clear: “once women pass childbearing age they can only be seen as grotesque on some level.”

It’s horrible to think that actresses only become more limited as they get older. It’s despairing to acknowledge that by the time they have truly honed their craft with the experience that only life can give, they’re quite often being either typecast or turned down. Meanwhile, aging male actors just keep on rising. While Gyllenhaal faces this sudden accusation that she’s ‘past it’ on some roles, her brother Jake – who is only three years younger than her – is considered to be at the peak of his career.

Gyllenhaal has made an effort to put a positive face on the matter by saying that she’s “looking with hope for something fascinating.” And somehow, even though the attitude of the industry is deplorable, I’d like to believe there are some faint glimmers of hope out there. In her Golden Globe acceptance speech, Gyllenhaal praised television’s recent depictions of “actual women” – real female characters that could be anything and everything.

Here’s hoping that the industries come to realise that”actual women” age – and are no less beautiful or talented as they mature. And in the case of actresses, they can perform in more roles, if only given the chance.

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Editor [2016 - 2017], News Editor [2015 - 2016]. Current record holder for most ever articles written by a single Edgeling. Also Film & English Student and TV Editor for The National Student. Main loves include cats, actors and pasta.

5 Comments

  1. avatar
    George Seabrook on

    One of the most fascinating things to me is that younger actresses like Watson, Lawrence, Robbie, all listed above, all fantastic actresses and obviously beautiful, that they are all treted with a kind of shocked awe that they are so normal. “Oh wow. she’s just like me, she’s weird, totally normal/intelligent and passionate beyond all mortal creatures”. There is a weird dichotomy of normalising them, and making that seem like such an incredible feat that they are instantly elevated back up again. I think that’s more to do with our need for role models than inherent sexism(?). But beyond that, there is also the constancy of their physical beauty being emphasised. It very rarely leaves the discussion or the picture.

    Not to mention some of the ridiculous comments Russell Crowe made earlier this year about ageism, and how i’s just actresses complaining that they don’t get to play the young attractive blonde anymore. When really, an actress like Jessica Chastain (who is 38, unbelievably) has only had success since she hit her thirties, but still isn’t often cast in roles that reflect her age. She’s older than Maggie Gyllenhaal is !

  2. avatar

    Just to play devils advocate here, would it still be mysogany if the role she was auditioning for was a 20-25 year old female who is having an affair with a sugar daddy (55)? Because then she would actually be too old for the role?

  3. avatar
    Anneka Honeyball on

    I would argue that if the role was specifically for a 20-25 year old female love interest, then Gyllenhaal wouldn’t have been given the chance to audition just out of common sense- but the point here is that they gave her the chance to audition and THEN turned her down because of her age. And even if you did argue over the unknowns in this particular case, ageism is still in the film industry, regardless.

    I would also argue that Jessica Chastain is a rare outlier and that the majority of actresses aged over 40 are facing the same struggles as Gyllenhaal, and that again ageism does still exist in the industry no matter how hard one tries to find exceptions.

  4. avatar
    Lewis Taplin on

    The point still remains that the amount of roles available to women as soon as Hollywood identifies them as on the older end of the spectrum (a very skewed, inaccurate spectrum) is ridiculously small. This particular case showcases the wider misogyny that exists in Hollywood casting, as a man’s film career can be broad throughout almost the entirety of his life, whereas women are restricted to an idealistic and young image until they are labelled old and casting becomes limited to the witch trope.

  5. avatar

    Oh I completely agree with both of you! Meryl Streep is the prime example, as you mentioned in the article. I was just playing devil’s advocate to this particular scenario; like you’ve pointed out Anneka, it’s bizarre that they allowed her to audition for the role if they knew or thought that she’d be too old for it! But yes, chances do become extremely limited once an actresses’ age exceeds the “sex symbol” stereotype.

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