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Today's Disconnect - Do Actresses Have Clout or Not?

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by Melissa Silverstein
June 11, 2013 1:30 PM
4 Comments
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Last week when I was in LA I read the following two articles on the same day.  

NY Times: On Newsstands, Allure of the Film Actress Fades and the Hollywood Reporter: Revenge of the Over-40 Actress.

As I was reading I couldn't help but think how is it possible that two publications have such mixed messages when it comes to Hollywood's female movie stars?  

The NY Times piece talks about how Hollywood actresses used to be that most coveted covers on women's magazines. That has shifted in recent years as film actresses have lost their clout.  Now the big sellers on magazine covers are reality stars, musicians and TV stars.  

Joanna Coles the editor in chief of Cosmopolitan, which targets younger women, even has trouble finding movie actresses for her covers.

Ms. Coles said it had become so difficult to find female film stars to feature from this summer’s blockbusters that her magazine was publishing an article about the problem.

"There are a lot of movies right now that don't speak to women," Ms. Coles said. "Since 'Sex and the City,' there haven't been those big, rah-rah movies for women."

If Cosmo is complaining about a lack of women movie stars we are so fucked.

Then in a whiplash inducing moment, I'm sitting in a restaurant in Hollywood and I see this big cover picture of a spike heel with the headline Revenge of the Over-40 Actress.  The article goes on to say that it wasn't so long ago when middle age actresses were relegated to playing mothers of male stars (ie Sally Field playing Tom Hanks' mother in Forrest Gump) and now people like Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy and Meryl Streep are having huge successes.  The article also goes on to say that the actresses over 40 have more clout that the actresses under 40 and that they are more beloved.  People love Sandra Bullock.  People stalk Kristen Stewart.  Big difference.  Instead of 40 being the problem age, 30 is.  The article makes it seem that it is harder for Rachel McAdams to get a part than it is for Cameron Diaz.  And that because older women look so good nowadays Hollywood is looking differently at older women especially thanks to their visibility and success on TV.

I'd love to believe that what the Hollywood Reporter says is true.  But I've seen the figures and I've seen the movies that are being released and this just seems to be wishful thinking.  The story undermines itself in the last paragraph.  It plays out the scenario of women who auditioned for the soon to be released film Gravity that was set to star 52-year-old George Clooney.  

The women who were looked at: Marion Cotillard, Scarlett Johansson, Blake Lively, Natalie Portman.  Only when those women didn't pan out did Sandra Bullock get the call.

So much for the clout of over 40 actresses.  This piece is an example of the media really trying to make a bad situation better.  The data is clear -- which the NY Times, not the Hollywood Reporter included in its piece -- less that 30% of all roles are going to women.  So it's makes sense that it is harder to build a career or maintain a career when there are no parts for women.  No wonder magazines don't want film actresses on the covers of their magazines.   There are just not enough of them on the screen.

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4 Comments

  • raphael | June 26, 2013 3:05 PMReply

    nice article! brilliantly written.... and quite down to earth. I like it, can't wait for your next articles in the future.

  • LS | June 18, 2013 12:32 PMReply

    Dear Melissa,

    When you dropped that F-bomb, I laughed out loud so hard it qualified as a, "cackle!" Twenty-one year olds don't cackle or flinch at F-bombs, but it surprised me. Stupendous article... actually I was going to say great, but that's so bland tasting. Job well done!

  • Melissa Silverstein | June 18, 2013 4:17 PM

    LS- Be prepared. I drop the f-bomb a lot.

  • Chris | June 12, 2013 1:13 PMReply

    What both articles suggest to me is that there aren't enough bankable actresses now and amongst the few there actually are some happen to be over 40 such as Bullock or Streep. Bullock was chosen..no WANTED for Gravity by WB because the studio didn't think the younger contenders (including the 40 plus Rachel Weisz) were box office draws for the kind of film it supposedly is.

    With a complete lack of opportunities is it any wonder the magazines are hesistant? These publications seem to have sadly figured out that if the majority of young supposed female stars aren't being promoted credibly by the industry in actually obtaining major starring roles (as opposed to comic book movie love interests) than what's the point in featuring them as cover stars?

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