I'm 51 and over the last few years I became aware that I have a superpower. I always wanted a superpower but strength, speed, the capacity to fly and x ray vision is nothing, when compared to the middle aged woman's ability to be invisible.
This occurs on the streets, when I'm in a queue, when I'm waiting to be served at a bar and pretty much everywhere but my own invisibility power is amplified and surpassed by the invisibility of my entire generation in films and on TV.
In the last couple of years I decided to restart my acting career because my caring duties of the last two decades have significantly reduced. At my age it appears that I definitely chose not just to push a penny up a mountain with my nose , but a penny that had been welded to the ground and encased in concrete with a sign on it saying "Not this penny, not this mountain and not ever"
I can't claim that my age is the only reason but as a woman in middle age, it's a really big reason.
The thing is it's not just a wannabe like me. Middle aged women are decidedly absent and that's interesting because middle-aged men still have at least twenty, if not thirty years of their career ahead of them, just like women's careers, as long as women don't intend to be in TV or Film.
So I'm launching my campaign because the issue of gender parity in the entertainment industry is a shockingly unbalanced fact. Men still get to play romantic leads, women over 40 if featured at all, are seemingly cast as supportive ex wives, bitter ex wives or therapists.
This isn't true of older women. Age it seems brings wisdom and actresses on both sides of the Atlantic, in to their sixties and seventies are seeing that there are parts available. But from light entertainment to the latest Mission Impossible episode in the behemoth franchise, women in middle age are notably absent.
All the middle aged men in too many of the shows that I've seen, have much younger wives and yet in my own friendship group this isn't the case. The men I know in their fifties have wives in their fifties and yet on TV and in film their current wives are considerably younger.
Well I'm not happy about that. In fact it makes me flush red and sweat, just like a woman in peri-menopause is wont to do. But just at an age when we have the wealth of experience to really inform our performances, we face the scrapheap challenge. Yet our stories, diverse, intricate and often tales of survival are ignored or traduced to the worst of ourselves
I'm calling on our writers, directors, producers show runners and other performers, to take on board Frances Mcdormand's call to creative arms, that is the inclusivity rider she spoke about. When, aged sixty she collected her academy award for her beautifully layered performance as Mildred Hayes in "Three Billboards outside Ebbing Missouri"
We can and we should be featured routinely as the stories of our lives are written and told, promoted and sold, because our demographic is there to be found. If we're not confident that we'll be involved, we're not going to participate. I believe there is an untapped demographic of middle aged women unused to recognising ourselves onscreen.
I'm looking for supporters for "Acting Your Age" campaign and amongst the people I've asked is a man who began his stellar career at 40, a time when most women performers are disappearing from our screens.
I asked him about his casting ethic and Ricky Gervais told me : "Most of my stuff is about real life so I try to reflect that. I would never make a hero or heroine twenty two because it was more marketable, when the story made more sense if they were forty two or fifty two. I also try and make relationships age appropriate and push back on this ridiculous Hollywood notion of the sixty year old leading man needing a twenty five year old wife."
Award winning actor and director Michael Sheen is also supporting my campaign, he said "In travelling around the country the most effective and courageous projects I come across, the ones that are genuinely helping people will most often have a woman over the age of 50 at their heart. These women are the overlooked and under appreciated secret engine of transformation in our society. But you would never know this from how they are represented in film and television. Is their reality too challenging and upsetting to the status quo? What are we so frightened of? If we want real, effective change and a fairer more equal society then they are who we must look to and champion. Showing their true faces on our screens and telling their actual stories is a hugely vital and urgent part of making that happen."
Award winning former TV producer and bestselling novelist, Jane Fallon supports my campaign. She said "As a producer whenever I wanted to cast an "older" (i.e. 40 plus) woman, I was always told by broadcasters that there was only a tiny pool to choose from. What they meant was there were only a handful of actresses that age who are visible on TV. So I would cast my net out to the unknowns and trust me there are thousands of talented women of that age out there. They just need the roles. And as a viewer that's who I want to watch-characters who are mature enough for me to relate to."
Award winning Actor Sinead Keenan supports my campaign. She said "It's not just Harry Potter who had an invisibility cloak- as a female actor you get one as soon as you hit middle age! As far as I can see, the only sphere that comes close to getting the representation of women right, is the world of soap. Most drama and comedy producers could only dream of the viewing figures garnered by soaps. Perhaps they should take a leaf out of their book....."
I'm making a list and I'll be checking more than twice. I want people to join with me in highlighting that middle aged women like me who first harboured creative ambitions as teenagers at drama school; don't have to stop achieving the equality of creative expression just because we reach middle age
Acting your Age Campaign supporters :
Jess Phillips MP
Dawn Butler MP (Shadow Minister for Women)
Emma Austin Jones
Acting Your Age Campaign Supporting Organisations :
The Fawcett Society
Women Over 50 film festival
The Equity Women's Committee
Acting Your Age Campaign Articles :