As the month winds down, a few twenty/thirty-somethings — Miley, Beyoncé, JLaw — are making headlines. But looking back at American entertainment in 2013 as a whole, it was a great year for women over 40.
Even though there were some big-budget movies that completely bombed this summer (looking at you, Lone Ranger), according to the AP, this year, Hollywood has raked in record amounts of cash:
Despite a string of summertime flops, Hollywood is expected to have a banner year at the domestic box office, coming in just shy of $11 billion, the largest annual take ever.
Part of the reason for this record box office? Gravity, a movie in which Sandra Bullock, a 49-year-old woman, dominates the screen. For hours. Yes, the film also stars the beauty of space and some out-of-this-world special effects, but she — a grown woman — is the face of the film. A film that's earned $254 million at the domestic box office and over $650 million (over half a billion)worldwide.
But guess what's earned even more than Gravity? Hunger Games: Catching Fire. Sure, the star, Jennifer Lawrence, is 23. But producer Nina Jacobson, who brought the female-centric blockbuster to the big screen, is 48; Suzanne Collins, who wrote the novels on which the franchise is based, is 51. For years, there have been a lack of female leads in Hollywood, and most big-budget high-profile flicks have been male-oriented. A few years ago we questioned whether or not female buddy comedies even existed; this year we had The Heat. Sandra Bullock, 49, and Melissa McCarthy, 43.
Four out of five Golden Globe Best Actress in a Motion Picture, Drama nominees are women over 40: Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett (44), Judi Dench (79), Emma Thompson (54). (Meryl Streep, 64, is nominated in the Musical or Comedy category.)
Meanwhile, women over 40 were rocking the small screen, as well. Robin Wright has been nominated for a Golden Globe for her portrayal of the icy Claire Underwood on House of Cards. Also nominated: 47 year old Julianna Margulies, for her work on The Good Wife. (Don't forget: The Globes will be hosted by 43-year-old Tina Fey and 42-year-old Amy Poehler; the Oscars have 55-year-old Ellen DeGeneres as host.)
Over on ABC, Nashville is killing it in the ratings game. Created by 56-year-old Callie Khouri (who won an Academy Award for writing Thelma & Louise), the show stars 46-year-old Connie Britton, in a role that has earned her both Emmy and Golden Globe nominations.
ABC is also the home of Scandal, a ratings juggernaut that was, along with Grey's Anatomy, created by 43-year-old Shonda Rhimes. While Scandal star Kerry Washington, is not over 40, this season has seen major plot twists and juicy scenes go to the First Lady, Mellie Grant, played by 43-year-old Bellamy Young, and the Vice President, Sally Langston, played by 56-year-old Kate Burton. Young playing "Drunk Mellie" earlier this season was delightful and delicious. And when 50-year-old Lisa Kudrow did a guest star-stint, she had a monologue on sexism that was one of the season's best.
Even more interesting is what's going on over at American Horror Story: Coven (which is also getting amazing ratings). While there's a youthful contingent in the cast — Emma Roberts, Taissa Farmiga, Gabby Sidibe and Jamie Brewer — at the show's core, there are 3 women over 40: Angela Bassett, 55; Jessica Lange, 64; and Kathy Bates, 65. (Other major characters — Cordelia Foxx and Myrtle Snow — are played by Sarah Paulson, 39, and Frances Conroy, 60.) They're not just playing the typical silly-old-lady roles, either. The characters are strong, powerful, scary and fierce, with complicated histories and relationships. Since women dominate the cast, AHS: Coven is one of the few TV shows that actually passes the Bechdel Test on a regular basis.
Plus: Episode 7, "The Dead," featured a sultry, steamy, very erotic, very sexy sex scene — between Fiona, played by Jessica Lange and The Ax Man, played by Danny Huston, who is 13 years younger. As the camera slid sensually up Lange's legs, it was stunning and slightly shocking, jarring to watch — only because it was the kind of hot scene usually reserved for younger, twenty or thirty-something starlets.
There are more ladies killing it on TV: Julia Louis-Dreyfus, 52, on Veep. Katey Sagal, 59, on Sons of Anarchy. Madeleine Stowe, 55, on Revenge. Edie Falco on Nurse Jackie. The mini-series Top of the Lake, created by 59-year-old Jane Campion, and The White Queen, based on a book by 59-year-old Philippa Gregory, both have award nominations. Oprah, Queen Latifah, Bethenny Frankel, Hoda Kotb and Kathie Lee Gifford maintain big presences on daytime TV. And Octavia Spencer, 43, is in the process of getting her own show. Betty White is still working. At 91.
In the book world, Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg (44) and The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt (50) were both best-sellers that made headlines. 44-year-old Christy Turlington appeared on giant billboards advertising Calvin Klein underwear (even though they didn't let her look her age); 60-year-old Kim Basinger signed a modeling contract with IMG.
If you're wondering why the hell all this matters, know this: Billions are spent on so-called "anti-aging" products, as if getting older is a disease to fight or cure. Older women, once considered wise goddesses, are often portrayed as bitter, sexless hags, Wrinkles on a man? Rugged, distinguished. Wrinkles on a woman? Horrifying. Women of a certain age are often portrayed like Magda in There's Something About Mary: abrasive, unattractive, kooky old bats. Punchlines. Women of a certain age have traditionally been cast in the female stock character of the brazen broad, the shrew. There for laughs or to berate others, but basically a one-dimensional sidekick. Seeing a woman over 40 (or 50, or 60, 70, 80, 90) as a fully realized character is not just good for women — it's good for society. It's important for their stories to be told, for their faces to be seen. Studies have shown that women feel they become invisible at age 46 — and even Kristin Scott Thomas, who at 53 age is a force of nature as Ryan Gosling's mom in Only God Forgives — said, earlier this year, that she felt that invisibility descend upon her:
I'm not talking about in a private setting, at a dinner party or anything. But when you're walking down the street, you get bumped into, people slam doors in your face – they just don't notice you.
Somehow, you just vanish. It's a cliché, but men grow in gravitas as they get older, while women just disappear.
That is bullshit, and we cannot allow it.
The one part of the entertainment biz where there weren't many women over 40 to be found? The pop music charts. (Mariah made a just a few appearances this year. Madonna's MDNA came out last year. Björk, where are you, we need you!) But hopefully this trend will persist… After all, 59-year-old Sonia Sotomayor is dropping the ball in Times Square tomorrow, on New Year's Eve. And by 2016, who knows?