Has Hollywood finally realised women don't vanish at 40?
Three women over 60 won a Golden Globe this week. Let's hope that's not a one-off
Find someone who celebrates you the way Jamie Lee Curtis celebrates Michelle Yeoh
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Three years ago, when I was writing the book The Shift, I distinctly remember researching the chapter about visibility and representation of women in midlife and beyond. Mainly because it was so bloody depressing. It wasn't that I was looking for luminaries and role models to put on a pedestal (as Dawn O'Porter said on an episode of the podcast (Opens in a new window) last autumn, "why do men get to be rockstars and women have to be role models?"), far from it, they just had to be there, where people could see them! I scoured the internet for older visible women, I counted the female faces over 40ish on television night after night, this was early on in lockdown so I couldn't scour the newsstands. Eventually, because there’s only so long you can stare at Fiona Bruce’s face (no offence, Fiona), I hit a wall and settled for the cast of Big Little Lies – Nicole Kidman, Laura Dern and Reese Witherspoon with their then-combined age of 146 – and Dame Judi Dench, who was on the cover of British Vogue that month. Which it has to be said was something of a groundbreaker at that time.
It was a depressing exercise and though I could already see a glimmer – a slither! – of hope, I have to admit to feeling a little despondent.
That was three years ago.
When I woke up yesterday morning everything looked different. So different it wouldn't even have occured to me to have imagined a change this seismic back in January 2020. I woke up, rolled over, dislodged the cat, grabbed my iphone and hit the internet, as is my wont most mornings (sad, I know), and had to turn on all the lights to make sure I wasn't seeing things. Everywhere I looked there was a woman in her 60s. (Holding a large gold thingy very reminiscent of a phallus, as it happens.) Not one, not two, but three best actress Golden Globes had gone to women over 60. And in an even bigger shocker, two of them were women of colour: Michelle Yeoh, 60, Jennifer Coolidge, 61, and Angela Bassett, 64.
And wow did they make the most of their opportunity to tell a few home truths that will be more than a bit familiar to most women north of 40.
Michelle Yeoh (above) won Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy for her role in the frankly brilliant Everything Everywhere All At Once, and is only the second actress of Asian descent to win a Globe. (If she goes on to win the Oscar, as she’s widely tipped to do, she’ll be the first.) Yeoh spoke for almost four minutes about what the award meant to her after 40 years of graft. Four minutes. Not too much to ask after 40 years, surely?
“Whew! OK. I’m just gonna stand here and take this all in. Forty years, not letting go of this.”
"I turned 60 last year. And I think all of you women understand this: as the days, the years and the numbers get bigger, it seems like opportunities start to get smaller," she went on. "And I probably was at a time when I thought, 'Well, hey, you had a really good run, you worked with some of the best people... then along came the best gift: Everything Everywhere All at Once."
Around about now, the organisers obviously decided she’d had long enough to say her thank yous – 40 years or no! – and started playing the 'get off the stage' music. Yeoh was having none of it. “Shut up, please. I can beat you up, and that is serious.” At this point someone had to concede defeat. It was not Yeoh. (Watch the whole speech here. (Opens in a new window))
Jennifer Coolidge (above) has also taken forty years to get recognition for her talent and tenacity. Coolidge who stole the first season of The White Lotus as Tanya McQuoid and was the only original cast member to reappear in season two (no spoilers if you still haven't seen but... 😱) beat the likes of Claire Danes and Daisy Edgar-Jones to win Best Actress in a Limited Series. After decades of slogging, Coolidge's genuine gobsmackedness at her unexpected later-life success gives me a warm glow. “"I had such big dreams and expectations as a younger person, but they get fizzled by life," she said in her, also four minute, acceptance speech. "I had these giant ideas, and then you get older and you think WTF is going to happen ... and I just want to say, Mike White (creator of The White Lotus) you have given me hope, a new beginning."
"I was never invited to one party," she added, "now everyone’s inviting me." People. They're so fickle. (Watch Jennifer's full speech here (Opens in a new window).)
Angela Bassett (above) won her second Golden Globe, for Best Supporting Actress in a movie, for her performance in Wakanda Forever (her first was almost 20 years ago for her portrayal of Tina Turner in What’s Love Got To Do With It?), made history by winning Marvel's first ever gong in a mainstream awards ceremony and gave another epic speech about self-belief.
'The late Toni Morrison said that your life is already a miracle of chance just waiting for you to order its destiny," she said, "but in order for that destiny to manifest, I think that it requires courage to have faith, it requires patience, as we just heard, and it requires a true sense of yourself." (Watch her full speech here. (Opens in a new window))
But my favourite moment of the night has to go to Jamie Lee Curtis who didn't let the fact she didn't win (she was nominated for Best Supporting Actress for her role in Everything Everywhere All At Once, but lost out to Bassett) dampen her joy for Yeoh's victory. Like Yeoh and Coolidge, JLC is on a roll, thanks to scene-stealing roles in EEAAO and Knives Out. If you ever needed reminding how we lift each other up, you need this as your screensaver. I know I do.
Even as I'm typing this I can hear a bit of muttering about ageism and sexism. I get it a lot with The Shift podcast (there are more important things about women than their age... yes! I know!) And I do know. I know it shouldn’t be a big deal. Age shouldn't be relevant. After all, I can’t tell you how old any of the male winners are, and it wouldn’t occur to me to judge them accordingly. (I've just Googled so you don't have to and fyi Stephen Spielberg (Best Director, The Fablemans) is 76, Colin Farrell (Best Actor comedy, The Banshees of Inisheren) is 46 and Kevin Costner (Best Actor limited series, Yellowstone) is 67.) Because SO FAR SO NORMAL. Let's face it, it's hardly revelatory for white middle-aged blokes to win things. And I will take any excuse to celebrate the achievements of a mid/late life woman. So sue me.
When I spoke to Kaye Adams (again for the podcast (Opens in a new window)) just before Christmas, we talked about the slowly increasing visiblity of women post-40 and in particular the menopause conversation. But what of after it? What of women approaching their sixties and wondering what next, she asked. "The next frontier is post-menopause. I'm largely, I would imagine, through the menopause. I'm 59, what life is there for me now? I'm perfectly optimistic and happy about the prospect, but that isn't really part of the discussion, is it?"
I can't think of a better way to kick start that discussion than this week's Golden Globes. With the visibility, talent, longevity and sheer graft of Yeoh, Bassett and Coolidge. And best of all, not one of them immediately pulled up the ladder.
60 is not the new 40 any more than 50 is the new 30. That's plainly BS. But as Coolidge, Yeoh and Bassett – and so many more – are proving, it can be even better.
P.S. Kerry Fox has just pointed out on Instagram that Cate Blanchett, 53, also won a Golden Globe (Best Actress in a Drama) for her role in Tár. So that's almost a full house!
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