While many actors thanked their costars at the Screen Actors Guild Awards on Sunday night, Nicole Kidman also thanked a few others: Susan Sarandon, Jessica Lange, Meryl Streep, and other actresses a generation older than her.
“I want to thank you all for your trail-blazing performances you have given over your career,” Kidman said. “How wonderful it is that our careers today can go beyond 40 years old.”
“Twenty years ago,” she went on, “we were pretty washed up by this stage in our lives, so that’s not the case now. We have proven, and these actresses and so many more are proving, that we are potent and powerful and viable.”
Kidman’s speech was a reminder that an industry beginning to reckon with sexual harassment and assault has long made women second-class citizens in a number of ways, including by discriminating against them as they age. The actress, who is 50, had won the award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a TV Movie or Limited Series, for her performance on HBO’s Big Little Lies. Two of her Big Little Lies costars — Laura Dern, who is 50, and Reese Witherspoon, who’s 41 — were also nominated. Rounding out the category were Sarandon, 71, and Lange, 68.
Hollywood certainly has work to do when it comes to ageism. A recent study of movies nominated for Best Picture Oscars in the last three years found that characters over 60 were underrepresented. Romances between men and much-younger women remain commonplace onscreen — especially in Woody Allen movies. At the younger end of the age spectrum, teenage characters are still frequently played by 20- or even 30-somethings. And it’s worth noting that the nominees in Kidman’s category, while all over 40, were also all white.
Still, Kidman is right that recent years have seen some meatier roles for actresses over 40, especially on television. Big Little Lies stood out for its female characters who were allowed to live full, complicated lives onscreen, despite being well out of their 20s.
Though the issue was less present than at the 2018 Golden Globes, several presenters at the 2018 SAG Awards mentioned #MeToo and sexual harassment in Hollywood and beyond — host Kristen Bell, for instance, declared in her opening monologue that “we are living in a watershed moment.” Kidman’s speech was a reminder that women’s power in Hollywood has long been constrained in a variety of ways. A preference for very young actresses, and a bias against those who have had time to rack up life experience and financial clout, has had the effect of keeping women from gaining influence in the entertainment industry. For Kidman and her costars at least, that seems to be changing.