Super Gran: Actors Who Triumph Over Ageism

FOREWORD: In Pauline Mark’s last Op-Ed; ‘Why The Concept of Age Range Matters to Film and TV Actors,” she examined how one’s true age (particularly for the more mature) can be a limiting factor when being considered for on screen roles. In this piece, the author shines a spotlight on the actors who have broken through that age barrier, and how the industry is changing to accommodate more diverse talent.

Some may say that youth is wasted on the young and one can literally age like fine wine. Such is the case with more and more screen actors in contemporary times. A close look at the industry reveals that within the last decade there has been a strategic move towards promoting mature talent, as well as content for their specific audiences.

Mature, local actors:L-R Cecilia Salazar, Marie Chan-Durity, Susan Hannays Abraham and Patti-Anne Ali | Photo Credit: Michele Jorsling

Most film and television industries around the world are tailored towards making money; and if they are fortunate…art. In a world where beauty and sex appeal are intrinsically linked to youthfulness, it is understandable if those behind the camera prefer the less mature among us. During the Golden Age of Hollywood an actress was considered “old” by the time she reached the ripe age of twenty seven. Screen sirens who were once revered for their unique beauty and physical appeal had to resort to ‘degrading’ and ‘inferior’ work. This was recently highlighted in Ryan Murphy’s autobiographical dramatic series Feud (2017) which chronicled the legendary rivalry between Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. Both actresses came to the forefront during the aforementioned Golden era and suffered severely, due to the rampant ageism and associated sexism of the time. During their last days they were forced to act in B Horror films and Soap Operas to make ends meat.

This trend continued steadfastly into the 1990s, and only a few performers seemed completely impervious; like Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep. Yes…you literally had to be a Titan to escape the ageist ways of the industry. Where Streep is concerned, it is curious that one of her most iconic roles during this period was in Death Becomes Her (1992); a dark, satirical criticism of society’s obsession with youth and immortality. Nicholson reigned supreme from the turn of the decade, riding off the high that Tim Burton’s Batman (1989) gave him. Of course, who can forget his portrayal of acerbic and eccentric writer, Melvin Udall in As Good as It Gets (1997), for which he won the Academy Award for Best Actor, as well as his turn as the charismatic villain in A Few Good Men (1992). The senior citizen was able to steal young and virile Tom Cruise’s thunder in the film. Now, who can handle that truth?

Over the years the entertainment industry has realised that they can successfully market content and bi-products to older folks. Thus, mature actors are reaping the rewards. Performers like Vanessa Redgrave, Helen Mirren, Dame Judi Dench, Gena Rowlans, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Liam Neeson, Viola Davis and now Jamie Lee Curtis are challenging, or have challenged the status quo. Mirren even has a successful beauty endorsement deal with L’Oreal Parris. Such a feat was unheard of thirty years ago.

With regards to Neeson, most audiences know him as a mature “star”. He first came to prominence outside of his native Northern Ireland when he starred in Schindler’s List (1993) at the age of forty; which is still fairly young. However, the actor’s career has been on an upward trajectory, the older he gets. At a time when action roles should be strictly relegated to the “Ryan Goslings” of the world, Neeson has emerged quite the blockbuster star. Not just a hero, but a solid sex symbol as well.

A few years back a fellow creative made it a point to mention that Morgan Freeman only became successful as an actor in his later years. He cited the fact that acting was something that did not have an expiration date. The refined talent has experienced most of his commercial success as an older performer, and when you think about it, you would not like it any other way, as a fan or general audience member. On the other hand, it was quite inspiring to see Dick Van Dyke appear in the 2018 Mary Poppins sequel (Mary Poppins Returns) at the age of ninety three, after first starring in the 1964 original. If I were to be completely honest, I was not even aware he was still alive.

Back in October 2018 Jamie-Lee Curtis made box office history when the first instalment of the rebooted Halloween franchise debuted at number one in its opening weekend, with seventy seven and a half million dollars ($77,500,000.00) domestically. It was the biggest horror film opening with a female lead, and also starred an actress in her late fifties. Curtis has been very vocal about Hollywood’s unhealthy obsession with looks and image. The former (or current) “sex symbol” had her revenge on the industry and proved that older women can still draw a crowd. Glen Close is also doing her age group proud with her wins during this year’s awards season. The intense talent has not seen such screen success since the 1990s.

Netflix has curated a respectable amount of content that features and caters to mature viewers. These include TV series like Greenleaf, Grace and Franke and The Ranch. Contemporary films like Something’s Gotta Give (2003), The Bucket List (2008), Letters to Juliet (2010), The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2011) and documentary RBG (2018)about lawyer Ruth Bader Ginsburg, have also kept persons over fifty entertained and celebrated.

Cecilia Salazar
Cecilia Salazar | Photo Credit: Stephen Doobal

Local performing icon Cecilia Salazar (Westwood Park, The Reef, Home Again) summed up the issue quite nicely when asked about the growing trend, stating:

I look at The View (1997) a lot, Whoopi Goldberg is on it, Joy Behar…I think they are challenging it and everything is changing. Just like ethnic groups or women…age is the next thing. Like Liam Neeson or Glenn Close, we have to make it happen. Where are the older local actors? Sonya Moze a nd Albert Laveau? They stopped acting. They may have continued by teaching, but I think it is up to us to change things. Now, with the internet and things like instagram-you need to have currency (laughs). Yes, a young person told me that; they’re calling it “currency”.

Now that is the truth, if ever there was one; as the social media era threatens to further alienate those with crystallised intelligence. However, it is up to the talent and their representation to skilfully use such platforms to their benefit.

We live in an era where we have the highest rates of senior citizens. They’re stories must be told, and it can only be performed by members of their demographic. As perfunctory as the camera lens may be, it will always adore great talent; even if said talent are no longer “young and beautiful” in the eyes of the ageist. After all, their audience has the final say.

The views expressed in this article are solely that of the individual(s) providing them, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of The Trinidad and Tobago Performing Arts Network or its staff.


Pauline MarkPauline Mark is a Film Producer, Writer, Director and Actor who has been involved in entertainment, culture and the arts since 2003. She has appeared in noted Trinbagonian productions, including: Positive and Pregnant (2011), The Cool Boys (2012), Home Again (2012) and Bazodee (2015), and has been featured in many local and regional print and television advertisements.

Pauline has served as a content creator for state-media; co-producing and scripting two seasons of Wired 5.0 Carnival series. She also created, produced and directed X and Y TV series in 2016, and produced The Apartment: About Last Night pilot film in 2015, among other projects. A true patriot, Pauline continues to do work that promotes Trinbagonian culture, people and places.

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