The Age of the Ageing Actress


In Hollywood, where fictional characters such as Peter Pan, Benjamin Button and the Pevensie Children were born into our imaginations.

The notion of ageing and the inevitability of getting older, along with grey hairs, sagging breasts, cellulite and stretch marks are all things, which have been, for the most part, confined to our imaginations. Beyond the screen, it’s another matter entirely, and one which has been vivaciously brought-to-life thanks to Michelle Yeoh’s speech for Best Actress in a Motion Picture at the Golden Globes. 

“As time went by — I turned 60 last year — and I think all of you women understand this: As the days, years, numbers get bigger, the opportunities get smaller as well” she reflected. “I probably was at a time where I thought, Hey, come on girl, you’ve had a good run and you’ve worked with some of the best people…it’s all good. Then came along the best gift: Everything Everywhere All at Once. “

Two months later Yeoh took to the stage once again, this time to give her speech for Best Actress at the Academy Awards. But this time her tone, rather than being reminiscent, seemed jubilant, dare I write, even provocative, one which not only saw her declare “And ladies: don’t let anybody ever tell you you are past your prime” but also challenge the notion of age and what it’s defined by in one fell swoop. Is it determined by a number or by success, is it even possible to separate the two? And to really address the ‘elephant in the room’ when Anthony Hopkins took to the stage aged 83 to accept the Academy Award for Best Actor, he was rightfully lauded. But when Michelle Yeoh, aged 60 has her own moment in the ‘limelight’, it triggers a barrage of articles which delve into the complex intricacies of ageism in Hollywood? See, for instance, the fact that according to Sky News, Yeoh is months away from turning 61, whilst the average age of male Academy Award winners is 47. Older actresses in general did charge through awards season; at 61 Jennifer Coolidge was awarded a Best Performance Golden Globe, Angela Bassett; 64 took Best Supporting Actress for her role in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever and Jamie Lee Curtis at 64 scored the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. 

“Hollywood has historically been a very ageist place, certainly since it became a commercial business where men were at the helm and women were discarded once they got to a certain age,” said Alicia Malone— a host on Turner Classic Movies. “When you think about how much older women have been erased from Hollywood, it also makes you consider how much we have all lost by not getting to experience their stories on the big screen, with all of their life experience, their wisdom, humour and vitality”. Whilst the ageing process, may not be ‘glamorous’ by Hollywood standards, which is for the most part determined by the male gaze, it is, far more powerfully, a humane one. One which no matter how outlandish or fantastical the movie, we as women find a common ground in, from grey hairs to sagging breasts and from cellulite to stretch marks, after all, wrote Zadie Smith, “these are the marks of living”. If we don’t see life after 50 on screen we’re bound to assume that these marks too are figments of our imagination. 

Michelle Yeoh’s starring role as Evelyn Quan Wang, an immigrant mother with a queer daughter in Everything, Everywhere All at Once sees us introduced to a character whose life transcends the screen. Here is a woman who is juggling a 9 to 5 laundromat job, going through divorce and dealing with her daughter's phase of teenage angst whilst trying to come to terms with her sexuality. All experiences which, after the movie finishes, continue to live on through the lives of it’s female audience.  Now if only we could learn how to travel through the multiverse too. 

The Age of the Ageing Actress
Michelle Yeoh in Everything Everywhere All at Once

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