How Women of All Ages Are Reshaping the Power Dynamics of Hollywood

Alicia VikanderEE BAFTA British Academy Film
David Fisher/REX/Shutterstock

From a turn-of-the-century transgender advocate (Alicia Vikander in “The Danish Girl”) to two ’50s-era lesbian lovers (Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara in “Carol”), from a feral post-Civil War fugitive (Jennifer Jason Leigh in “The Hateful Eight”) to a ’90s mogul-in-the-making (Jennifer Lawrence in “Joy”), this year’s Oscar-nominated female roles offer up an unusual depth and breadth of female characters, constructs, eras, epochs, achievements — and ages. Ranging from 21-year-old Saoirse Ronan to 70-year-old Charlotte Rampling, the 10 nominees for lead and supporting actress span a staggering five decades. That is astonishing, given Hollywood’s notorious age bias.

“This is a big year in film for women,” says Elizabeth Saltzman, stylist to Irish ingénue Ronan, nominated for her performance in “Brooklyn.” “There’s a lot of really positive diversity. Last year, we caught a glimpse of it when we saw Jane Fonda step back out there,” she says of the 78-year-old, who kicked off a stellar 2015 red carpet season with a Balmain jumpsuit at the Grammy Awards.

This year’s comeback stories include supporting actress nominee Leigh, 54, who is back with a vengeance thanks to her demonic “The Hateful Eight” character Daisy Domergue, and lead actress nominee Charlotte Rampling, who gives arguably the performance of her career in “45 Years.”

And it’s not just the ladies who are enjoying a later-in-life renaissance.

“Look at Sylvester Stallone finally winning,” says Saltzman of the “Creed” star, 69, who took home the Golden Globe for supporting actor, four decades after receiving his first and only Globes nomination for “Rocky” in 1977.

“What’s so nice about this year’s red carpet, and the type of roles these women are playing, is to see the range,” says Cristina Ehrlich, stylist to lead actress nominee Brie Larson, 26, who’s already bagged Golden Globe, Critics’ Choice and SAG awards for her riveting role in “Room.” “It’s a really interesting opportunity to see how women throughout the different stages of their lives use the whole understanding of what beauty is in the way that they dress and express themselves. There’s so much strength to the roles, and different shades to who they are, and (as a result), the categories this year are very strong and very exciting.”
“There’s a lot of powerful women in Hollywood right now,” says Saltzman. “Even designers. Look at Stella McCartney and Victoria Beckham — both mothers of four. Heck, if this isn’t the decade of the woman, I don’t know what is!”

But for a young star especially, the scrutiny of the red carpet can either be incredibly stressful or very liberating, says Ehrlich.

“You can watch this arc and evolution of how Jennifer Lawrence looked three years ago and how she looks today,” she says. “They grow up on the red carpet.”

For any young actress “who gets catapulted into this type of attention,” she really needs to lean on her team for suport, notes Ehrlich.

“Brie has a lot of peers and friends in the industry who have gone through this moment themselves, and she’s been able to enjoy that support,” she says. To wit, when dressing Larson for the red carpet, Ehrlich chose to counterbalance the serious subject matter of “Room” with dresses that spoke to her sunnier side.

“We wanted to evoke a lot of light, because the movie is heavy and the character is in confinement, and it comes through with the all gold beading of the Calvin (Klein at the Golden Globes) and the ethereal blue of the (Atelier) Versace at the SAG Awards,” says Ehrlich.

“The Versace showed people that she’s not just an American sweetheart — she can also be very glam and very sexy.”

Traveling throughout the awards season circuit, Ehrlich has also been struck by a new era of solidarity and support among women, personified by longtime collaborators Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, who co-hosted the Golden Globes from 2013 to 2015.
“To see two colleagues get up on stage together and do that whole thing was really fresh,” says Ehrlich. “It was a very strong representation of women working together.

“I’ve been through this awards season many, many times,” she adds, “and this year in particular feels very positive. It’s beautiful to watch how these women interact with one another—there’s an authentic and genuine camaraderie amongst them.”
Has the fashion world caught up with this new, more inclusive, more collaborative red carpet?

“Yes, I think it has,” says Saltzman. “There’s plenty of choice for everyone. You have so many incredible designers who cater to everybody now.”

Case in point: both Ronan and Fonda wore Yves Saint Laurent Couture to the Globes — despite their 57-year age difference. “It’s the coolest story you could tell,” says Saltzman. “We had Saoirse in YSL, and they came to me and said, ‘We know you want to be the only one (in YSL Couture), but (then) Jane came to us.’ And I said, ‘Perfect — both ends of the spectrum.’ It’s such a great double-edged sword — one side of it’s Jane; one side of it’s Saoirse; and they go together beautifully.”

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  1. This is great until you look at how many female nominees of any age at all there are in categories other than “Actress.”

  2. So what happened in 2012 when Emmanuelle Rivera was the oldest actress to be nominated for Best Actress? And that same year Q. Willis was the youngest! And Jessica Chastain played a strong female lead who fought terrorism and Naomi Watts played a female who survived nature itself. And who did you give it to? The only one of the five who was didn’t fight anything, just bitched for two hours and over-acted. Jennifer frikkin’ Lawrence. All this talk about diversity and women of all ages and you have nominated a woman THREE times for playing older women which she neither looks like or acts like (I’m pretty sure being emotionally erratic doesn’t make you older even if lots of make-up says otherwise). All this talk, all this wonder about women striving and you still pick people for these roles out of pure popularity and looks. Film is meant to reflect what people want. How many people even saw “Joy”? I looked it up and it didn’t even make back it’s budget in the states nor did it double it’s budget in it’s overall worldwide total. Carol…did anyone care? Yeah great performances but slow movie that drags. This isn’t depth. This is fifty versions of the same “repressed woman who finds her strength” which is great for feminism, but very boring for a general audience. Not like any of them care. They talk a big game but you know who actually did something? Jessica Chastain started a production company. Lawrence talked a big lie up and she got a huge pay raise but she didn’t do jack for anyone else. Hollywood is not about people anymore, it’s a political party in itself. You don’t speak for people anymore. You use films about the 5% of the horrible people in the world and reflect on the 95% that are good. And because of people having empathy we’ll keep watching even if it doesn’t reflect the world around us in truth. There is no depth here, just the same old shallow promotion.

    • Anne says:

      Finally Variety writes and article about women that’s not a hit piece, I think we’re making progress. Not too much progress though since the article is mainly about fashion as oppose to the roles.

    • Yes I’m aware this article was about fashion design (Which really shows how ironic and shallow they are but whatever. Apparently looks really do define who you are. Very sad.

  3. There they go again. Hollywood’s diversity is limited to the one that they WANT to exist rather than actually reflecting the diverse racial, ethnic, political or religious makeup of this nation.

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