Campaigning for a better representation of older women on stage and screen

11th June 2022

There is continued discussion about the lack of representation of women over the age of 40 in theatre and on screen. Why? Why are we still having to have these conversations?

It’s 2022. Should we not be closer to reaching our goal of getting better representation for ‘older’ artists? Or even have achieved it? What is stopping us?

It is clear to see that there is a lack of older women on stage and screen and this needs to be challenged. 

The roles available for those 40 and over are often on the periphery or those lucky enough to get cast are often in a mother or grandmother role and made to appear old and frumpy with a stubborn and dull character.

This is not the type of role we want to play. We don’t want to be stereotyped into something we are not. Or given less screen and speaking time than our male counterparts or younger female actors. We want to be leading and driving the action and making a big impact. Being ‘older’ has a major advantage of experience – that’s life and work – which we can bring into each exciting role we play.

We need more strong and empowering roles like The Split’s Hannah Stern played by Nicola Walker (52), Polly Gray in Peaky Blinders played by the late Helen McCrory (52) and Fiona Shaw’s (63) portrayal of Carolyn Martens in Killing Eve.

It has been known for producers to cast younger women in an older role and dress them to look older! Which to me makes no sense when you have an abundance of female actors perfect for the job who are just waiting for an opportunity.  

The arts need to be more diverse and mirror real life to give interesting and relatable story lines to viewers and audiences of all ages. By limiting or erasing the true narrative of women aged 40+ from stage and screen, will take away inspiring and motivating stories from all women within this age bracket. 

We see unconscious gender bias everywhere and this issue needs to be addressed. 

After struggling to get work after having 20 years away looking after her family, actor and writer Nicky Clark founded the ‘Acting Your Age Campaign’ in 2018 to put pressure on the industry to tackle the lack of opportunities for female actors over 40.

The campaign has gained a wealth of support over its four years from famous names, including Amanda Abbington, Frances Barber, David Tennant, Michael Sheen, Emma Thompson and Sally Phillips. Plus backing from organisations, such as The Fawcett Society, Women Over 50 film festival, Women's Equality Party, ERA 50:50 and The Equity Women's Committee.

It has also gained a lot of traction in the media recently. You may have heard Nicky speaking about the campaign on Woman’s Hour last month.

Just last week, Nicky penned an open letter calling for better on-screen representation for women over 45, stating:

Today’s in demand young actress, is tomorrow’s unemployed middle aged actress, and we are fighting to ensure that our generation of excluded women, is the last generation of excluded women.

This letter, which calls for “a parity pledge” #DontCastHerOut and provides recommendations as to how the industry needs to act, has been signed by more than 100 actors and public figures, including Keeley Hawes, Lesley Manville and Juliet Stevenson.

This is an incredibly powerful campaign with a wealth of professionals and experts behind it, which is bound to make our industry sit up and take notice. 

As well as getting older women on screen or stage, it's extremely important to raise their profile in directing, producing and writing roles as well. It is in these positions that they can add real and artistically exciting elements to the casting and storytelling. 

We are 100% behind ‘Acting Your Age Campaign’. It is going to be an uphill battle and changes will be slow, but as long as we are all joined up in pushing this campaign to provoke pressure for change and increasing our representation, we will get there. 

As Nicky says, "There should be no place for gendered ageism on screen” and we’ll add “and stage” to that!