NBC Universal Exec Bonnie Hammer Puts The Smackdown On Hollywood’s Treatment Of Older Women

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Meet Bonnie Hammer. She is the chairperson of NBC Universal Cable Entertainment Group, where she oversees ten networks including USA, Syfy, E! Entertainment and Bravo, as well as two Hollywood studios, and she just turned 65. Why are we mentioning her age specifically? Because in Hollywood, it’s a big frickin’ deal. There are many older women and men in all sorts of high positions in Hollywood, both in front of and behind the camera, but the way they are treated and perceived is what makes the difference.

There have been many high profile actresses who have spoken out against the harsh discrimination over older women in Hollywood. And let’s be clear, when we say “older”, we essentially mean any woman over the age of 30, that’s how ridiculous this problem is!

In an interview not too long ago, 37 year old award-winning actress Maggie Gyllenhaal confessed she was up for a lead role in a major film alongside a male actor. The man was 55 and Maggie was told she was “too old” to be seen as a viable love interest for him. Are you spitting out your coffee yet? There’s plenty more where that came from…

In a separate interview where she referenced Maggie’s confession, British actress Dame Helen Mirren called it “f***ing outrageous” that there is an age discriminatory factor in Hollywood, and points out the very obvious example of James Bond, who gets older and older with every film, and his love interests get younger and younger. Double standards much? Yes!

A lot of this discrimination comes from the top, and can also stop with the people at the top. So when an executive like Bonnie Hammer writes an op-ed about this very issue, it can hopefully hold a lot of weight in the industry. She has the power to make certain changes. In Fortune magazine she writes about her experience being an older woman in Hollywood, and how sick she is of the different ways men and women are treated.

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“While older women are often labeled as ‘tired’ and ‘out of touch’, aging men get to be ‘distinguished’ and ‘seasoned’,” she  begins.

“While leading men have been celebrated for their timeless charm and weathered good looks, women my age have been barely visible on screen—or try to remain visible by remodeling what age has created. Bowing to societal pressures, they’ve lifted brows, tightened skin, filled laugh lines, and realigned proportions, all to stretch careers that would have otherwise been jeopardized by simply looking one’s age,” she said talking about how women start to become invisible in society as well as the industry by the unfair standards set by the media.

This was clearly outlined for anyone who isn’t familiar with this problem, in an sketch on Amy Schumer’s show called ‘Last f***able day’. Although Amy along with actresses Patricia Arquette, Tina Fey and Julia Louis Dreyfus joke about how at a certain age they can no longer viably play a love interest on screen, it speaks to a much larger problem when women are held to certain standards that essentially count them out of life.

“Ask almost any woman in her 60s and she’ll tell you that while she may feel like 40—vital, vigorous and engaged—her valuation has changed. Experience is often dismissed, energy routinely ignored and, let’s face it, sex appeal all but laughed at. In racetrack jargon, we old mares are sent out to pasture while our male counterparts frolic in stud farms,” explains Bonnie.

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“When women reach age 65, they encounter an invisible barrier of perception that says it’s time to walk away. Shouldn’t we have a choice in the matter? Shouldn’t our experience and energy be worth more?”

Another award-winning actress and self-confessed “card-carrying feminist” Emma Thompson has also lent her voice to this issue in a recent interview with Vulture, saying in Hollywood the age thing has actually gotten worse, not better, and shares one of her own experiences.

“I remember somebody saying to me that I was too old for Hugh Grant, who’s like a year younger than me, in ‘Sense and Sensibility’. I said, ‘Do you want to go take a flying leap?’ The age thing is insane, [and] it was ever thus. I remember saying years and years ago, when I was 35, that they’d have to exhume somebody to play my leading man,” she said. Clearly these are not isolated incidents…

In her op-ed, Bonnie mentions some statistics about age in the US backing up her argument that age discrimination is hurting our population. According to the AARP, almost 2 million people will also turn 65 over the next year, and half of those are women, and that is a large section of society that is being ignored. Yet she is in a position to use her influence and flip the script, and hopefully change mindsets along the way.

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“in the spirit of Hollywood, it’s time to rewrite the script on aging. The stereotype that says we’re past our prime and ready to be forgotten needs to change,” she said, adding that with age has come a sense of calmness, confidence and wisdom, especially in her career, that she could not have achieved in her younger years where she was more motivated by a fear of failure and the desire to please others. This is an aspect she wants other women to know, and the rest of the industry to recognize.

“I believe that women everywhere would share that same profound sense of freedom and possibility if they simply ignored the constraints of conventional expectations—including what it means to turn 65. Rather than give in to an outdated perception, we would instead write a new chapter, not only for ourselves but for the younger generations to follow,” she concludes.

We could not agree more, and we hope her influential voice will encourage more women and men to speak out about age discrimination. In the meantime, Buzzfeed has helpfully created this compelling list of what things would look like in Hollywood if the roles were changed and men were held to the same standards as women. In ‘If Hollywood Age Gaps Were Gender-Swapped’, they give a list of some of the industry’s leading men and pair them with women much older than them.

Bonnie Hammer includes a beautiful quote from designer Diane Von Furstenberg, who has also written about the female problem with age in her own memoir: “Your wrinkles reflect the roads you have taken; they form the map of your life. My face carries all my memories. Why should I erase them?”

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One Comment

  1. Pingback: Feminist Retirement Home In Paris Celebrates Aging With The Message "Growing Old Is Not An Illness" - GirlTalkHQ

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