Patricia Clarkson Speaks Out Against Hollywood Sexism & Gives Hope For The Future
This just in: a middle-aged woman with superlatively fulfilling career thinks Hollywood's sexism and prejudice against older women is an issue. Don't get me wrong; Patricia Clarkson's comments about Hollywood sexism are totally legitimate, and she is absolutely right. The industry suffers from deeply ingrained sexism, and it's an issue for older actresses — even actresses with Clarkson's illustrious career, or better ones. In her Guardian interview, she said that while women "have risen" in Hollywood, they're "still a vast minority." Clarkson goes on to describe how "these archetypal older women in movies can sometimes make my skin crawl. It’s about the one dimension, it’s about the lack of any texture.”
The irony of it being Patricia Clarkson who's doing the complaining about it still isn't lost on me. She started her career relatively late on, scoring her first movie role at the age of 27, playing Kevin Costner's wife on The Untouchables. And it wasn't until she was 39 and took her breakthrough role in High Art (1998) that rave reviews meant she gained mainstream recognition as an actress. Arguably Clarkson's most significant films — The Green Mile (1999); Dogville (2003); Pieces of April (2003); Cairo Time (2009) — all fall after Clarkson's 40th birthday. Heck, in Cairo Time, in which Clarkson takes the role usually reserved for a 20something — the leading lady in a rom-com — Clarkson was almost 50 years old when it came out.
Hollywood is horribly sexist; there's certainly enough evidence to support that. But Clarkson's own career also brings with it a measure of hope. Those boring "archetypal older woman" roles Clarkson complains about? I'm not sure she's ever played that many of them. As the Guardian article acknowledges, she plays "mum roles" in Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Pieces of April, Friends With Benefits, One Day and Easy A, but these are hardly boring ciphers of roles. Check her eccentric mum in Easy A:
As for the rest of Clarkson's career, the only rule has been no rules. She's played bit parts on sitcoms (the troubled psychiatrist on Broad City, for example); she was a TV regular for a while on Six Feet Under; she's played a villain in the dystopian Maze Runner franchise; she's had roles in indie movies (Dogville, The Station Agent), roles in Hollywood blockbusters (Shutter Island), and roles in Ryan Gosling movies (Lars And The Real Girl).
While Clarkson's complaints about sexism are legit, thinking about her career is like intellectual Prozac. Sure, Hollywood's bad, but as Clarkson's rich, varied roles show, maybe there will come a day where she is the rule and not the exception.