What is "too old"? Is age a matter of fine lines, birthdays, or the wisdom which only the passage of time lends us? No. Too old is 37 goddamn years old. At least for a woman like Maggie Gyllenhaal. And by a woman like Maggie Gyllenhaal, I mean any woman who is 37 years old.
QUIZ: Are you too goddamn old to play a female lead against a 55-year-old actor?
A Hollywood director recently told Gyllenhaal she was simply too old to play the romantic partner of a 55-year-old actor. Through research and a squad of paparazzi I keep on payroll, I have exclusive video of the director at a pool party he recently attended:
Gyllenhaal told the Wrap this week that despite being "old," she found ways to live and not just exist:
"There are things that are really disappointing about being an actress in Hollywood that surprise me all the time. ... "I’m 37 and I was told recently I was too old to play the lover of a man who was 55. It was astonishing to me.
It made me feel bad, and then it made me feel angry, and then it made me laugh."
"And then it made me laugh," she told them. She's got a successful career and a great perspective on life. Maybe that has something to do with Maggie's age, too.
There is more to see here than a heroic anecdote in a celebrity's career
It shouldn’t take leaked secrets to jar us into challenging the culture of discrimination that Hollywood treats as the normal way of doing business. Gyllenhaal's choice to publicize the event is as worthy of analysis as a surprised reaction to it from the public is concerning. No one should be surprised that this happened. There are reasons we don't see similar stories escaping studios more often. When these stories do escape, we remember what we already knew about Hollywood.
Second, to play the celebrity worship card and say she is a hero or that she's shown superhuman bravery isn't enough. Worshiping an unusual act detracts from the run-of-the-mill respect she deserves every day through her own, quite average humanity. I don't mean to take away from the fact that she is brave. I think she is. But Maggie shouldn't have to be seen as a hero to garner the respect she deserves, 37 years old or not.
Third, it isn't enough to assume she went public because that option was financially easy for her, either because of her success or power derived from it. There is a popular illogical meme of criticism that comes with success: that someone successful does something simply because she can.
If one faces discrimination when applying to a job, and then talking about it makes a person a hero, we've got to widely expand our list of heroes beyond celebrities and sporting events. Maggie (that I know of) has not made a statement that she intends to file any legal course of action. But we know she's in a position to afford to be able to — and most of us aren't.
The gendered age gap is part of a spectrum of discrimination in Hollywood
In 2013, Vulture created a series of charts that compared the ages of actors to their female counterparts in popular films. Here's Denzel Washington's co-acting history:
As Vulture's Kyle Buchanan noted, the age of leading male actors rises as the age of leading actresses stays the same:
The results confirmed our suspicions: As leading men age, their love interests stay the same, and even the oldest men on our list have had few romantic pairings with a woman their own age (or even one out of her mid-thirties).
So what do we do? For now, add Gyllenhaal's anecdote to the map of the known universe of discrimination in Hollywood.