Female actresses face up hill struggle against male executives

Labour Party

The film industry was blasted last week by veteran actresses Juliet Stevenson and Bridget Jones’ diary star Gemma Jones who said male executives only cast ‘nubile and beautiful young women’.

Actors of their age are only offered ‘mother roles’, they claimed and it is having a devastating impact on mature female talent.

I cannot think of another industry that embraces such an ageist attitude or indeed where it is accepted practice to discriminate against older women so overtly.

Britain is legislated up to the hilt against employers who would consider using ageist policies within their work environment, you are (quite rightly in my view), not even allowed to ask a persons age within an application for a new job. Yet it has become accepted practice in the acting world in a way it wouldn’t be anywhere else.

Today I participated in an event hosted by the International Federation of Actors (FIA) which explored gender equality in the acting world. The President of the FIA, Agnete Haaland, opened the conference, alongside Andrea Gautier from the Spanish Ministry of Culture. Gautier focused on the need to take into greater consideration the gender perspective in the media across Europe, and discussed in particular an important conference on the 31st May in Madrid, in which experts got together to debate this issue. She pointed out that gender steroeotyping in TV, film and advertising and the underrepresentation of women in the media consolidate narrow gender roles, thus restricting the room for manoeuvre and life opportunities for women and girls, but also for men and boys.

The picture is bleak for so many women because the executives are male and looking for young actresses. It is extraordinary that executives ignore or neglect to acknowledge the wealth of knowledge and life experience older actresses bring to roles.

The problem has become so grave that Stevenson and Jones said that this is prompting mature women to go under the knife.

Only two days ago we acknowledged the hugely talented actress Julie Walters who was nominated twice in the same category for a Bafta for her role playing the feisty politician Mo Mowlam and in another role playing a lady who ended her life at the Dignitas clinic.

Britain is bursting with talented older women such as Walters, Gemma Jones, Maureen Lipman, Annette Crosbie, Meera Syal, Juliet Stevenson Dame Judi Dench and of course Helen Mirren, I could go on and on and on. I applaud both Stevenson and Jones for speaking out in such strong terms against the male dominated culture that these women face and which in any other industry would simply not be tolerated. British actors really must work hard to fight this antiquated male executive way of thinking and I will certainly offer my support.

Why I disagree with Judi Dench about the Olympics

Labour Party

It’s a shame, to put it mildly, that in the minds of some, the Olympics and the arts are diametrically opposed to each other, especially where money is concerned.  It is perhaps an even greater shame that Dame Judi Dench, who incidentally doesn’t like to be known as a national treasure, feels the need to join in the debate and thereby polarise matters further.

Dame Judi made it clear in the Times yesterday that she believes theatre subsidies are being siphoned off to pay for the 2012 Olympics.  She then continued by telling us that, “There’s no question that the recession has had an effect on the arts, especially British films.”

No-one would dispute that we live in straitened times.  However I, for one, do not wish to see funding for cinema, theatre, literature, music and the visual arts cut.  What we need to do, therefore, is find a way of maintaining support for the arts while meeting our Olympic obligations, even while the economy is not in the best of health.

A tall order indeed, but not necessarily impossible.  We need, I believe, to take a long hard look at arts and sports funding taking a creative approach to the money available.  The cake may not be as large as we would like, but there are always several ways to cut it.

Firstly, as regular readers will know, I am a strong supporter of the Olympics.  The 2012 Games will put London even more on the map than we already are, bring in large revenue streams and provide an infrastructure for use in the future.

 Indeed, one of the solutions to Dame Judi’s complaints could be found in an article in the Evening Standard  later the same day.  The new board of the Olympic Legacy Company, due to meet for the first time next week, could, and should, consider arts usage for the land and buildings once the Games are over.  This, I am sure, would provide a real boost to the arts in London and even nationwide.

Using some of the Olympic site in this way together with a commitment to put aside some of the revenue generated by the Olympics for the arts, if handled well, could overcome the problems to which Dame Judi refers.  Granted, this would not come into effect for three years, but I am sure a commitment now would make a big difference.

Above all, we should stop this playing off the Olympics against the arts.  Sport, in all its forms, plays a vital role in our country, as do the arts in a different way.  Let’s make sure all our culture and entertainment, in essence what makes our lives fun and interesting, gets the support it deserves, and let’s also all work together to bring this about