For the longest time, the film industry largely regarded aging actresses as disposable, creating roles for younger women who hadn't yet outlived their use of being innocent and fertile and sexually appealing to that all-important male audience to which studios catered. But the tide seems to be turning. The average age of the highest-paid actresses is 42. It's indicative of how older women aren't just working, but highly valued. Unfortunately, though, women of color are totally absent from the list.
While the top-paid actress on Forbes' list this year is incredibly young—Kristen Stewart, 22—she's the only one in her 20s on the list. The next youngest woman is Charlize Theron at 36. Meryl Streep, 62, is the oldest. But for the most part, the women are in their mid- to late-40s (Julia Roberts, Sandra Bullock, Sarah Jessica Parker). In fact, the list skews older than it did just a year ago, with Theron and Kristen Wiig, 38, replacing younger romcom stars Katherine Heigl and Reese Witherspoon.
Ten years ago, Rosanna Arquette's documentary Searching for Debra Winger was the first to seriously explore the issue of women aging (or opting) out of Hollywood. The turn of the century was a particularly insane time for aging actresses. The advent of Botox and other face fillers forced them to make a choice between looking young enough to land a role and being able to actually emote well enough if they got it. Additionally, the age difference between actors and actresses playing love interests was getting ridiculous. Remember Entrapment? We were supposed to buy a romance between Catherine Zeta-Jones, who was 30 at the time, and a 70-year-old Sean Connery.
But even in the nearly 100 years of movie-making before that, fading older actresses was definitely a "thing" and we were just supposed to accept it, like in Sunset Boulevard, or laugh at it, like in First Wives Club, when Goldie Hawn, who played an aging actress chasing her youth through Restylane, said, "There are only three ages for women in Hollywood: Babe, District Attorney, and Driving Miss Daisy."
But that might not be true anymore. In an industry that is focused more on money than it is youth and beauty, the Forbes' list is the ultimate validation of the relevance of older actresses. Placing a dollar amount over their heads is very cut and dry: These women are not disposable. They're worth a lot.
Most importantly, though, its representative of a certain shift: Studios are no longer simply chasing after that younger male demographic. With movies being made for women more frequently, it's clear that female audiences at large have suddenly become more valuable.
Still, it's troubling that women of color don't make an appearance on the list. Hopefully we won't have to wait another 100 years of film making for that to happen.