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liz

Elizabeth Markson, Resident Scholar, discussed part of her research on older women as they are portrayed in Hollywood films over the past 70+ decades.  She focused on how clothing and other props are used to represent aging and old age-in a random sample of 83 feature films from 1929 to 2004, Drawing from films over a 70 year period, she gave examples of the ways that older actresses been depicted to give both explicit and explicit messages about women and aging.

Persistent images and props from 1930 through 2000 define the film roles played by older women: shawls, rocking chairs, aprons, cooking and baking, and small pets. Even women who are villains cook and prepare food—including just before spurring on a lynching!  Attendees chatted about why older actresses very rarely portray active and vibrant people, rather than backdrops for the actions of younger (or predominantly male) cinematic portrayals. Despite social change, older women’s dress and activities remain likely to be clothed in stereotypical fashion as ‘witches, bitches, or poor old things’. However, the times are changing—or are they in American cinema?  Will greater life expectancy, later retirement, more women in the labor force, and the aging of the baby boom generation reduce ageist and sexist film portrayals of women 60+?

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