Young Voices

Tuesday, March 8, 2005

Women, Hollywood and the big 4-oh

And here comes Renee Zellweger down the carpet looking absolutely stunning in her raspberry colored strapless Carolina Herrera dress. She's sporting a new hairdo and it looks as if she's trimmed down since her last film outing."

"Oh and look at Gwyneth Paltrow. She looks so great - you wouldn't have guessed she'd just had a baby a few months ago. Her nude silk corset dress was designed by Stella McCartney."

The sad fact is that Sunday night during the Academy Awards, all of the time, effort and hard work over the last year by most female actresses boiled down to a few minutes of exposure on the red carpet. Within hours after the awards end, coverage begins on news stations and the internet and appears in the stacks on newspaper stands the next morning. They are prodded, poked and pecked apart from their hairstyles all the way down to their high heels. These women are judged more on how they look and what they are wearing on the red carpet than by how well they can act.

And historically, the trend in Hollywood seems to be that once an actress creeps closer and closer towards the big 4-0, the good parts in films stop knocking at their door. Instead, they are replaced by younger, skinnier 20-something actresses with less experience and talent. And even the premier actors like Nicole Kidman (38), Julia Roberts(37) and Halle Barry(38) getting closer to the age not to be mentioned, the standards are different because they don't "look" older. Even the desperate housewives on ABC don't look too desperate.

And it seems this only ads to the dieting and cosmetic surgery craze that engulfs our culture. With nearly seven million women in the U.S. undergoing the knife for cosmetic alterations in 2003, one might wonder if the way we portray women on the big screen might have something to do subconsciously with the trend.

What kind of message is Hollywood sending to the teenager, housewife, working woman or grandma paying money to see the newest Kidman flick? We are telling everyone that it's not natural for women to age. Its not natural for anyone over the age of 40 to be considered beautiful. That gray hair, wrinkles and a little weight as you age isn't what American women are supposed to look like, even though most of the women in our society don't look like the small percentage of Hollywood actresses.

Some may say that no one wants to see an older woman between the sheets or in a romantic situation. But haven't we gotten past the idea that old people don't have sex? Women in the 40's and 50's are having babies. Julia Roberts didn't have her twins until this year. It's true, all women aren't 20, but why do we still expect them to maintain the physical appearances of a college student?

What makes this situation even more disgusting is the fact that there is a very distinct double standard. Actors like Tim Robbins, Sean Penn and Jack Nicholson can get leading rolls and win Oscars doing it, but most times women aren't cast in the same leading roles. We would much rather see a 20 year-old paired up with Nicholson. A gray-haired, wrinkled, heavier Sean Connery can act his old heart out until he nears 100, but once an actress starts to show signs of age such as packing a little weight on her hips or a nasty little pair of crows feet show up on her face, she's got to look for supporting roles instead of the leads. This year, only two women past the age of 40 were up for the leading female actor, which went to 30-something Hilary Swank, yet all but one of the supporting actresses up for an Oscar were at or near 40. Yet all but one of the leading actors up for an Oscar were at, near or over 40. Clint Eastwood is 75.

Yes, many more women have broken through the ranks and have high positions at ABC/Disney, Sony, Universal and Paramount. And many women have hung up their acting reigns to direct and create their own production companies. There are even younger women like Drew Barrymore who have become fairly successful at it. Yet, women still can't seem to break though the Hollywood, star-filled glass ceiling.

Since the Academy Awards began 77 years ago in 1928, only three women have been nominated under the best director category. Those women were Lina Wertmuller in 1976, Jane Campion in 1993 and most recently Sophia Coppola in 2003. And in those 77 years, no female director has ever won. Yet actors like Kevin Costner, Mel Gibson and Clint Eastwood all have acted in and directed big name movies and received the Oscar for best director in the last 15 years.

Clint Eastwood doesn't have to be critically picked apart before hand on the red carpet. He can gain 10 pounds or a few more wrinkles and still wake up the next day with job security. He can direct and act, and still take home all of the recognition. When will it be Julia, Nicole or Gwyneth's turn?

* Tiffany Cornelius is the editor of the Buena Vista University student newspaper, "The Tack."