Growing older can be a daunting experience for a woman no matter her status in life or how she earns a living. But, let’s face it, in the entertainment industry it can be even more challenging. And for actresses over the age of 35, it’s an especially hostile environment. Many performers are put out to pasture at the height of their talent in youth obsessed Hollywood, denying viewers the chance to experience the natural evolution of life-to mature and yes, God forbid, age. Unfortunately, this practice has instead effectively coerced many performers to undergo plastic surgery, often rendering them unrecognizable not only from their former selves but from the way anyone looks in the natural world. It’s increasingly common to see a movie or television show in which faces burst with filler stretching skin so tight that it resembles a Halloween mask. But just when I’d all but given up hope, Kate Winslet in MARE OF EASTTOWN, gave us a revelatory performance that has set a new precedent and hopefully paved the way for mature female thespians to appear as nature intended within the Hollywood studio system.
Kate Winslet’s performance as a middle aged woman struggling with the furious demands of being a single mother while leading the investigation of a high-profile murder and missing persons case is not merely noteworthy for her excellent portrayal of a complex and wholly original female protagonist. It’s also proven something of a cultural milestone because it resonated with legions of viewers for its honesty and bravery in depicting the life of a single mom struggling with her grief and guilt over the suicide of her son while providing for three generations of her family. Authenticity still means something to many viewers and I think it’s fair to say that legions of female viewers are grateful for the representation at a time when many of us continue to feel diminished by the lack of realism in our depictions. There was a time when a gifted actress giving an excellent performance wasn’t something to necessarily celebrate, but such is the current state of the film and television industry that we now find ourselves thrilled when our low expectations are exceeded.
All of this raises the question of what constitutes representation. In recent years, pressure put on the film and television industry to be more inclusive has led to greater opportunities for women and people of color, both in front of and behind the camera. And that movement can be credited for more leading roles featuring older female thespians. But those same performers continue to find themselves trapped in a system that wants to keep these women in an unnatural perpetual state of youth and beauty and will punish those who even attempt to buck the system and go a more natural route. Personally, I don’t feel represented when the middle-aged woman on screen bears no resemblance to myself or many women I know. Kate Winslet understands the viewers better than the industry. She caused something of a controversy when in an interview with THE NEW YORK TIMES she revealed how she insisted that her “bulgy bit of belly” not be edited out of a sex scene and that her wrinkles not be airbrushed. She correctly surmised that viewers were “starved” for this type of realism. I am hoping that Kate Winslet will continue to be a trailblazer and set a trend in the Hollywood film and television trade that mature women are to be portrayed and celebrated as we are and not airbrushed or botoxed into oblivion. Perhaps inspired by the enormous success of this limited series and specifically Winslet’s performance, they will stop denying female viewers true representation.
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