Actors including Amanda Abbington, Ricky Gervais, Frances Barber and Mark Gatiss have lent their support to a new campaign demanding more and better acting roles for middle-aged women.
Actor and writer Nicky Clark created the campaign, Acting Your Age, after trying to re-enter the industry following 20 years spent caring for her children and mother.
She said: “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.
“[Older] men still get to play romantic leads, while women over 40, if featured at all, are seemingly cast as supportive ex-wives, bitter ex-wives or therapists.”
She is calling on writers, commissioners, directors and performers to embrace this “invisible generation of women”.
Others throwing their weight behind Clark’s campaign include comedians David Baddiel and Shappi Khorsandi, and actors Sarah Parish, Catherine Russell and Michael Sheen.
Sheen said: “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.”
Support has also come from MPs Jess Phillips and Dawn Butler, shadow minister for women, as well as Equity’s Women’s Committee and gender equality charity the Fawcett Society.
Speaking to The Stage, Clark described a gulf between the ages of 35 and 60 in which parts dried up.
“There is a disparity between younger female actors and much older female actors – Judi Dench, Jane Fonda, Diane Keaton, Helen Mirren. It’s the women in the middle that are losing out,” she said.
Clark said there were more roles for women in theatre than on screen, and condemned a lack of parity on TV – “the biggest influencer that we have in all of our homes”.
“We’re seeing such an amazing, seismic change now in the industry with the recognition that women aren’t toys or property. I felt it was the right time to be able to say that, actually, a woman who has had a career as an actor shouldn’t suddenly have to stop being able to pay her mortgage because of the onset of wrinkles and grey hair,” she added.