Jessica Lange: The powers that be aren’t interested in stories about older women

Prolific showrunner Ryan Murphy has a new series coming out on FX in March called Feud. It’s going to be eight episodes and is all about the backstage rivalry between Joan Crawford and Bette Davis on the set of the 1962 film Whatever Happened to Baby Jane. Crawford was about 57 at the time (her exact birth date is unknown) and Davis was 54, which was practically ancient at the time. Murphy has spoken about the fact that parts dry up dramatically for older women, and that he’s trying to change that with his series. In fact this show addresses that specific issue, something the stars, which include Susan Sarandon, Jessica Lange, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Alison Wright (I LOVE her as Martha on The Americans) were asked about during a recent press conference. Sarandon said that things were changing, because she often fails to understand issues that don’t personally affect her, while Lange acknowledged that it’s a real problem and that there aren’t enough movies being made featuring older women. Variety has the story:

Murphy says that what he loves about his upcoming show is that “even though it’s set in 1962, the themes are so modern and women are still going through those things and nothing has changed.”

His stars Lange and Sarandon agree.

“I think that a big part of the show is what Hollywood does to women, as they age, which is just a microcosm of what happens to women generally as they age, whether you want to say they become invisible or undesirable or unattractive,” Lange said, posing the question, “What happens when that beauty is no longer considered viable because it’s equated with youth?”

Lange, 67, noted that Crawford was actually 10 years younger than she is now when she starred in “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?” — the iconic film that’s at the center of the eight-part FX anthology series. “And yet, her career was finished,” Lange added, speaking of Crawford, who was then 57 years old.

Sarandon jumped in to say that she believes Hollywood has made strides in a small way.

“When I started, it was over by 40. So definitely the line has been pushed,” Sarandon said. “I was told on many occasions not to bring up that you had children. … I think those things have changed and you see the line has been moved forward.”

Lange disagreed.

“I don’t think it has changed very much to tell you the truth. I don’t,” Lange said.

“It’s not a question of age or looks,” Lange continued. “If the powers that be aren’t interested in a story of a woman of a certain age,” then older women won’t be cast in those stories.

Chiming in, Sarandon agreed with her co-star, noting that women are often shut out of leading roles in Hollywood solely because of their age. The “Thelma & Louise” icon said that aging in Hollywood is difficult “even for people who were trying to do parts that aren’t youthful glamour parts.”

“When Bette [Davis] doesn’t get the Academy Award, she sees it — and probably rightly so — as her last chance to get good parts,” Sarandon recalled. “Part of the interesting dynamic is that Joan [Crawford] was the beautiful one and Bette went for the character actor … she was counting on that Academy Award to revive things.”

Catherine Zeta-Jones, who is playing Olivia de Havilland in “Feud,” said that she hopes to portray her character as a strong-willed woman who was ahead of her time.

“She was a tough ball-breaking woman. She went up against the studio, which was rare at the time, and today,” Zeta-Jones said. “There’s a bit of an enigma, which I love, but I want to play her stronger than more people would have imagined.”

[From Variety]

When I was in college I understood and discussed feminism similar to how Sarandon initially framed this issue – things have changed, we’re breaking the glass ceiling, we don’t have to fight as hard thanks to our moms and grandmothers shouldering that burden for us, etc. Now that I’m older I really get how serious this is, and how I have been insulated from so much by being a white women from a specific background. (I hope that I’m coming to a similar understanding about race but realize I need to listen more and not make assumptions based on how easy it’s been for me.) Getting back to this story, Hollywood is a very visible microcosm of society and older women are marginalized in so many ways. We shouldn’t have to be young and attractive to be heard and when we’re young and attractive that should not constitute the majority our worth to society. I’m sick of men running everything frankly. I’m sick of them having the money and power and I’m sick of them calling the shots.

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24 Responses to “Jessica Lange: The powers that be aren’t interested in stories about older women”

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  1. QQ says:

    I’m EXTREMELY Pressed for that show to come on!! Even my bf knows to send me any tid bit on it he knows Im Gonna watch Every single ep on Air date LOL

  2. almondmilk says:

    They should get-together and start a consortia of women 45+ or maybe even 55+ and create their own stories and own projects.

    You know, do it yourself. Don’t wait for the powers that be/men, to give you something.

    Be more like Hillary, Susan. heh.

    At least try for that gold ring, fight the battle – don’t sit around waiting for the phone to ring to cast you as a sexually viable 62 year old. You think Scott Rudin and Harvey Weinstein are gonna do that?

    Sarandon at 60 was playing middle aged Melissa McCarthy’s mom in that comedy of hers (title name escapes) – that seemed like such weird casting and to me, it seemed like she had given up. She’s a lot less ferocious in her career, than she was fighting the first female nominee for President, 69yr old Hillary Clinton, who won the popular vote, yet lost the election to the most vile male sexist pig on a national stage in recent memory.

    Who Susan helped.

    • LAK says:

      Difference of opinion aside, if you understand the things Susan has been fighting against most of her adult life, and the fact that Hilary sort and embraced the architects of those things, you would understand why Susan could never vote for Hilary.

      This election is not the first time she has opposed Hilary, and Susan has always been very public about the things she opposes, so her visibility this time was nothing new.

    • MissMarierose says:

      That’s a good point. Several younger actresses (Drew Barrymore, Eva Longoria, Reese Witherspoon come to mind) have created their own production companies to create roles for themselves, and in Longoria’s case other Latinx actors.
      I wonder why actresses of Sarandon/Lange’s age don’t do it. Surely, they’ve got the money, connections, and fame to be able to do it.

      • Elgin Marbles says:

        The executives and financiers who fund projects still perceive Eva, Reese and Drew as girlfriend worthy, so to speak. While those actresses have their own companies, they still need investors. Unfortunately for Jessica and Susan – and all the rest of us middle-age and older women – we’re pretty much invisible to Hollywood – hardly “girlfriend” material. Once you hit 45, the roles diminish, when you’re over 50 they begin to completely disappear. Ryan Murphy is one of the few people who can actually see women as they are – age is irrelevant to good story telling and there are plenty of good stories and people who want to hear/see them that feature women ‘of a certain age.’

    • Rose says:

      I don’t want to see boring stories about old ladies…I already live that shit.

    • gogoboot says:

      Fk Susan. I’ve lost respect for Susan Sarandon since the election where she said she might vote for Trump. No respect for her at all and turn off the tv whenever a movie of hers comes on now.
      Susa S. sounded so hateful during the primaries and she can afford to wait out a now Trump Presidency because she HAS HEALTH CARE and She is a rich woman who won’t be affected by social cutting of programs. Fk Susan I hope she enjoys her President she helped get into office.

  3. crazydaisy says:

    This line gave me a chuckle: “parts dry up dramatically for older women” – lol, are we talking about “lady parts”?

    Seriously, though, it seems to me the studios are missing out on a lot of potential income by denying parts and films to older women. Women of a certain age are VERY interested in stories about women of a certain age! Mature, adult women love going to the movies (and tend to be able to afford it), but please, not another rom-com featuring 20-somethings, or some stupid teen scream flick, etc. Wake up, Hollywood!

    • Elgin Marbles says:

      That’s just it. There’s a ridiculous amount of untapped income here. It’s not like people disappear and stop spending money when they turn 50. Older women want to see women who look like themselves onscreen, just like everyone else does.

  4. Nancy says:

    I agree older women get lost in the fray. Lately, however, it seems Susan has become rather bitter. Haven’t we all I guess. But factually she is a 70 year old woman who is still working albeit not in the fashion she would prefer. She is in LaLa Land. In the real world, how many 70 year old woman still have their jobs. One should be able to work as long as they desire and are able, but I think in Hollywood, they do have an advantage over us regular folks. Not trying to pursue a debate, just an opinion. I do think the show will be good, how could it not be with Jessica Lange!

    • Della says:

      How is she in ‘lala land’ ? I mean REALLY? Hollywierd is chock full to stuffed with old codger men STILL working – look at all those ancient rock bands – all men while Madonna is castigated for doing the same.

      This is the point…

  5. honeybee blues says:

    Back in the 80′s, CBS picked up the option for a sitcom they KNEW would be cancelled in a few weeks, but needed a temporary filler. They tried to cancel that show mid season, and the women (primarily) of the US revolted. That was a little show called The Golden Girls. No one believed four middle-aged women could carry a primetime show. So you see, the audience is there, and middle-aged women have income and time to go to movies/watch a favorite show, but network honchos (men, primarily) have the collective memory of a house fly.

    • Lalu says:

      My sister and I were little girls and we loved the golden girls. She still watches the show. I had no idea how it came about. Thanks for the little history lesson!

    • Nancy says:

      Same as Lalu. I had no idea that’s how the show was born. It’s still all over cable. Thanks for the trivia miss honeybee blues!

    • lucy2 says:

      I never knew that, how interesting.
      It’s continued to be one of the most enduring shows (and totally holds up) and just got picked up by hulu for streaming.

    • Elgin Marbles says:

      Don’t forget the original Murder She Wrote as well. It featured Angela Lansbury, hardly a spring chicken, and it was on the air for 12 seasons.

      • I Choose Me says:

        I freaking loved Murder She Wrote and I still watch episodes of Golden Girls whenever it’s on.

  6. Elle says:

    You lose it how you got it. When beauty standards worked in their favor as younger women, I never heard them fight for talented actresses with large noses or nonwhite skin or plus sizes although those women rarely got/get good parts no matter how talented they are. I understand the principle of self preservation, but you can’t expect equality by half measures.

    • Elizabeth2 says:

      Excellent point, Elle, and so true.

    • Nancy says:

      Ha! I would love to hear Susan’s response to your comment. Sometimes it’s hard to look at both sides of the coin, but you made an excellent point that I agree with!!

  7. lucy2 says:

    I do think things have improved for women from the early 60s, but there is still a long, long way to go.

    As much as I think Ryan Murphy is a crappy storyteller, I do have to give him a LOT of credit for creating so many female-centric shows, and for hiring women of all ages.

  8. Nikki says:

    Every time we see a movie, afterwards I summarize for my family or friends how women were trivialized. Older women are usually invisible unless there’s a part for a witch, shrew, or crazy!! But it’s up to each woman to know and demonstrate her own worth, and to not take crap from anybody. Write your own screenplay, be bold when others ignore you, and be grateful for your blessings as you demand change.

    • Deeanna says:

      The Brits seem to have less of a problem with this. I wonder why that is? I have also noticed that in British TV series, the actors are not all handsome and the actresses are not all beautiful. Many of them still have their British teeth. Some have scars and moles. Others have a prominent nose or a receeding chin. And they look like real people, actually.