Hollywood has a bad habit of casting Male and Female co-stars as the same age when often the male is almost double the age as the female love interest.
Maggie Gyllenhaal created waves a few years ago when she reported, at the age of 37, that she was too old to play the love interest of a 55-year-old man.
In the world of Hollywood there are few women over the age of 40, you can count them, and they are considered the classics, who still star in rom-coms. Sandra Bullock, Reese Witherspoon and Julia Roberts are considered among the few who are still featured in romantic films over the age of 30.
In 2015, Will Smith’s focus came under scrutiny for the love interest between Margot Robbie (28) and Will Smith (50). Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence have played romantic interests a few times with a seventeen-year age gap between the two of them. But this commonplace practice of casting a much younger female against a much older male has been prevalent since Hollywood’s golden age: Kim Novak was half the age of 50-year-old James Stewart during filming of 1958’s Vertigo.
In 2015, 007 Spectre was praised for casting a 50-year-old Monica Bellucci opposite a 47-year-old Daniel Craig. While they cast a slightly older woman to play one Bond girl, gaining praise, in the same movie the other two bond girls, Lea Seydoux and Stephanie Sigman, were both in their late 20’s.
Older men starring opposite younger women is so commonplace that when it happens we no longer bat an eye at it, even if the age gap is fairly significant. However, when the role is reversed and the woman is older than the man, it’s so unique that we start to label the female with names such as “cougar” or “MILF”.
People magazine once asked, “Why are leading actors matched with co-stars half their age?” The article suggested the possibility that it was because Hollywood directors tend to be older males, who are “trying to relive their youth”.
Film producer Stephen Follows says, “The age gap matters because films are a major part of our culture and inform how we think about the world. Movies are so pervasive, it’s impossible that they don’t have an effect on what we consider an age-appropriate relationship. The first place that many children see relationships that aren’t between their parents is on screen.”
There is an unconscious bias which means it is the norm for men to be older than women in movies. People tend not to veer from the norm. So, if a woman seems older, your film is going to stick out a bit and why would you do that if you don’t need to?
While the problem could be overt sexism, having more female directors and writers might lead to a change. More young women are making shorts and directors such as Abi Morgan are focusing on having films with more good parts for women, like Emily Blunt in Siccario.