Why Aren’t Women Allowed to Age On-Screen?

Source: IMDb

When Nicole Kidman accepted the SAG Award for her critically acclaimed turn in HBO’s “Big Little Lies” last January, the Oscar-winner and industry veteran praised her colleagues for instigating change, while also imploring those who run the studios to continue investing time and money in the stories of women who’ve reached middle age.

“[H]ow wonderful it is that our careers today can go beyond 40 years old because 20 years ago, we were pretty washed up by this stage in our lives. That’s not the case now,” she said. “We’ve proven — and these actresses and so many more are proving — that we are potent and powerful and viable. I just beg that the industry stays behind us because our stories are finally being told.”

“It’s only the beginning and I’m so proud to be part of a community that is instigating this change, but I implore the writers, directors, studios, and financiers to put passion and money behind our stories,” Kidman added. “We have proven we can do this. We can continue to do this, but only with the support of this industry and that money and passion.”

Yet, while prospects for women over age 40 have begun to expand, many face the same level of typecasting that’s come to define the maturing female’s career. While many are relegated to nothing more than supporting roles, others find themselves playing one-dimensional wives or mothers that contribute very little to the given film’s basic plot. Despite the fact that women — especially those with decades of life experience — are complicated, emotional, and endearing, these dynamic humans rarely star in stories of their own.

While marriage and motherhood might be part of the mature woman’s narrative, such factors often become the defining elements of the given character’s story. Judging by Hollywood’s vision, women lose their identities once they become wives and mothers. They’re devoid of any individuality and exist only to support the ambitions of their partner or child. If said woman hasn’t tied the knot or given birth, she’s portrayed as an outlier — a so-called “spinster” that’s fixated on snagging herself a husband and having a baby before her biological clock becomes a ticking time bomb that renders her undesirable by society’s standards.

Source: IMDb

Even though it’s 2018, for some reason we still assess a woman’s worth by whether or not she’s fulfilled her duty as the vessel for another life. And, if a woman has aged beyond her childbearing potential, she’s cast aside, essentially proving that society believes mature women aren’t “sexy” because the act of intercourse could never lead to new life. Thus, those women over 40 must maintain a certain aesthetic in an effort to retain this youthful appeal.

Men, of course, are allowed to age on-screen because, while actors are revered for the name they bring to the project in question, women are valued for their face, first and foremost. Only the beloved few — Meryl Streep, Helen Mirren, and Judi Dench, for instance — have managed to overcome the age hurdle and find success on the other side. Even when men have lost that handsome, boyish appeal, they find new life, as male maturity often leads to more serious roles (although their love interests rarely age in unison). For men, their résumé sustains their reputation, while actresses are assessed by nothing more than their headshot.

Hollywood needs to stop fixating on sex appeal and start focusing on substance. Few films offer an intricate, complex look into the lives of mature women. For years, we’ve been forced to accept Hollywood’s caricature of the average woman, yet this trend has only hindered the way we perceive women in real life. We’ve been conditioned to expect wives and mothers to maintain a pristine exterior regardless of their actual age, which only contributes to the unrealistic beauty standards we must battle every day. Perhaps, if women on screen looked and behaved like the women we meet every day, we’d be more accepting and intrigued by those whose stories have yet to find an outlet. There’s so much untapped potential, after all, so let’s heed Kidman’s plea and put the passion where the people are.

(This post originally appeared on Storia.)


The Mourning After: When Fictional Deaths Evoke Real Emotions

Source: General Hospital

Nothing can prepare your tear ducts for the raw emotions death brings to the table — not even spoilers tweeted by the deceased themselves. After all, even though it’s not uncommon for popular TV shows to kill off major characters nowadays in an attempt to capitalize on the shock value, the surprise isn’t any less devastating.

When Detective Nathan West (played by Ryan Paevey) “General Hospital” died from a gunshot wound to the chest recently — an injury inflicted by his criminal mastermind father Cesar Faison, no less — I was stunned. Like many fans, I simply didn’t see the twist coming. Even though I discovered the news via Twitter spoilers, I found my breath catch in my throat as I quickly scrambled to confirm these facts. It was clearly true, but I started to explore related trending topics in search of fan theories expressing the contrary anyway.

Much like the actual mourning process, I was in denial.

Despite the fact that Paevey remains alive and well, it was hard to fathom that Nathan’s shy smirk, the one that twitched to life whenever he’d gaze upon his on-screen love Maxie Jones (played by Kirsten Storms) with those baby blues, would no longer be part of my afternoons. He’ll no longer save Port Charles from the bad guys that roam the docks. He’ll never offer his sister Nina (played by Michelle Stafford) another supportive pep talk.

When you stop to think about all the “never agains” that come along with death, even in the fictional sense, it’s difficult to absorb and accept the wasted potential of a young life curtailed. In this case, Paevey’s decision to leave the acclaimed daytime drama was motivated by his desire to pursue his dreams and embrace said potential. Nathan’s tragic death subsequently tapped the emotions we hold deep within, evoking a visceral, involuntary reaction that one can only be attributed to genuine acting talent from the entire ensemble and brilliant writing from the creative team.

Each actor’s grief reached beyond the screen, tugging at the heartstrings non-stop. It’s hard to watch such scenes, no matter your attachment to the character specifically, for the tears appear to come from the cast’s mourning for a dynamic that can never be reclaimed. Just as the audience was suddenly forced to grapple with their emotions, the actors involved with this storyline had to bring the words on the page to life in the face of his on-screen death.

Of course, having watched soap operas for most of my life, I’ve already eased my sadness by brainstorming ways for the writers to bring Paevey’s character back from the dead down the road, should the actor choose to return. (It’s simple, really. This entire string of events was merely staged, you see. Nathan’s just in hiding — the Witness Protection Program, or something similar — in order to protect his unborn child until the threat of evil fades. It’s been done before, I believe, so it’s within the realm of possibility.) It’s the only way I’ve been able to get through these scenes without bawling alongside his fictional family.

While viewers are aware that the given death isn’t real, the brain can’t seem to convince the heart that what’s depicted isn’t true. Because we can empathize by putting ourselves in their metaphorical shoes, we feel what the actors feel — we sob when they sob, we ache when they ache, we crumble when they crumble. Even though we know we can easily connect with the actor in question via social media, five seconds after they flatline, it’s hard not to mourn someone we invite into our home each day. It’s hard not to grieve the end of something familiar.

Paevey’s character arrived in Port Charles just over four years ago, but the actor has left an indelible mark on the show in a relatively short period of time. Nathan’s one of the few characters in soap history who’s maintained their “good guy” vibe — even when he was being secretive, it was only in an effort to help his friend Amy (played by Risa Dorken) pay for her wounded brother’s medical bills upon his return from Iraq. It’s no wonder Paevey’s departure launched an endless stream of crying emojis all across social media. He was an instant favorite and, wherever the wind takes him, his devoted fans are sure to follow.

(This post originally appeared on Storia.)

Tracee Ellis Ross Empowers Women to Live Life According to Their Own Rules

Source: Essence

While Tracee Ellis Ross plays the mother of five on ABC’s Black-ish, the actress herself lives an entirely different life.

“It’s really interesting to be a woman and to get to 45 and not be married and not have kids,” Ross said as she began her now viral speech at Glamour’s Women of the Year Summit last week. “Especially when you’ve just pushed out your fifth kid on TV.”

During her 11-minute speech, Ross detailed how society treats women who remain single and childless, and how cultural expectations diminish our gender for not conforming. Drawing from personal experience, Ross explored how ambition doesn’t always align with the so-called norm.

“I grew up planning a wedding… But I also dreamed of winning an Oscar and being on the cover of magazines and making a difference in the world — helping women find our voices. And from that dreaming, I have built an incredible life. I have become a woman that I am proud to be,” she said.

“And then someone tells me about their friend who adopted a child at 52 and how ‘it’s never too late for your life to have meaning,’ and my worth gets diminished as I am reminded that I have ‘failed’ on the marriage and carriage counts. Me! This bold, liberated, independent woman,” she said. “I’m killing it! So, why? Why do I get snagged this way? As if all that I have done and who I am doesn’t matter.”

She explained that society constantly tells young girls and women that “being chosen and having kids” are the end goals for anyone who wishes to lead a meaningful life. In her words, “husband plus child equals woman.” We aren’t complete unless someone deems us worthy of their love and progeny.

Source: Good Housekeeping

But with four simple words, Ross realized that, despite her success, she was still being sucked in by societal influence.

“I’m sitting there free writing, maybe conversing with my inner child, and I write down: MY LIFE IS MINE. My life is mine,” she said. “Those words stopped me in my tracks and honestly brought so many tears to my eyes. Seems so obvious, but obviously it wasn’t. Because I have NOT been living my life as if it was my own… I have to put myself first and not be looking for permission to do so.”

Ross continued by explaining that, when women speak out or stand up, they’re condemned for being themselves. Women are regularly persecuted for stepping outside the accepted bubble of womanhood because the patriarchy feels threatened by those who don’t follow the “rules” their forefathers set in place. But, as Ross said, she’s going to have to break an agreement that she never officially agreed to in the first place.

“That agreement says: We are here to be of service to others, that our destiny is to live in the shadow of men. That we are simply objects of desire, and that we are willing to live with having our voices stifled again and again by the misogyny of our culture.”

Instead, Ross promised to her reality and her dreams and let those elements be her guide as she navigates her individual life. In the same breath, she invited the women in the crowd to do the same.

“Join me for a moment and imagine: What would it be like for women to completely own our own power, to have agency over our own glory and our sexuality, not in order to create a product or to sell it, or to feel worthy of love, or use it as a tool for safety, but instead as a WAY OF BEING?” she asked the audience.

Women need to stop thinking of themselves in respect to others around them. We must focus on who we are inside in order to understand who we are to the outside world. We were not put on this earth to please anyone but ourselves. We owe the men of the world nothing and, with Ross’s words echoing among us, we must recognize that we have countless allies who believe we’re worthwhile because of who we are, not who we love.

There’s nothing wrong with following the traditional path — the one paved long ago that says we should make stops only to pursue marriage and family. But we cannot chastise those who choose to forge their own road through the fields and forests that line the way.

Life isn’t linear. We’re all meandering along in some way or another. You zig. I’ll zag. If we meet again along the way, at least we will do so knowing that we were our brave selves, as Ross said. Our whole selves. The complete, real, true people we were always meant to be.

Read Ross’s full speech here or watch the entire presentation below:

(This post originally appeared on Storia.)

MTV Presses the Rewind Button, Brings ‘TRL’ Out of Retirement—but Why?

Source: ABC News

For television executives, future success seems to lie in the past. From sequel series, such as “Raven’s Home”, to reunion reboots, such as “Will & Grace”, many TV networks are turning to old favorites to attract new audiences. Yet, while nostalgia certainly seems to sell these days, MTV’s upcoming “Total Request Live” revival fails to take the passage of time into account.

When “TRL” began its initial run in 1998, life was much different than we’re used to now. YouTube was still about seven years away from its debut, internet connections were primarily of the dial-up variety, and cell phones were bulky, analog devices that belonged to businessmen and… well, Zack Morris. Texting wasn’t possible, but beepers were still popular, and killing time on the “World Wide Web” meant monopolizing your family’s landline. Without music television, video never would’ve killed the radio star.

By the time “TRL” called it quits in 2008, the world had transformed dramatically. Smartphones existed, even if they weren’t yet widespread, social media was on the rise, though it didn’t retain the same level of influence it does today, and nearly every video you could imagine was accessible on-demand thanks to Wi-Fi networks.

Now, nearly 10 years later, MTV’s already fighting an uphill battle before “TRL” even premieres.

First and foremost, the team must tackle the elephant in the studio: social media. For those of us who grew up during Carson Daly’s “TRL” days—the days before DVR and live-streaming—our idea of “sharing” was talking about the latest Britney Spears video the next morning before the first middle school bell rang.

Source: Scott Gries/ImageDirect

Today’s teens and tweens, however, will likely spend more time staring down at their smartphone screen than their TV. Perhaps that’s why the network plans to split hosting duties among five VJs during this go ’round—they need to satisfy this generation’s self-induced ADHD. How they’ll integrate social media remains to be seen, of course, but it’ll likely distract the viewers from the true premise of the show.

MTV will also have to pad the show’s latest incarnation with plenty of appearances and performances by today’s top artists if the network hopes to gain and retain the interest of these fickle viewers. Anyone can watch the hottest music videos of the day via YouTube now—a luxury unavailable to its original audience—so even the countdown alone won’t draw people in, no matter how interested they might be. Plus, anyone who’s ever watched “TRL” knows that they only play videos in their entirety when they premiere and when they retire, so if they stay true to the nature of the show, they’ll need to find a way to alleviate the subsequent disappointment.

While “TRL” was our reason to rush home back in the day, it doesn’t hold much allure for modern audiences, at least not in its original form.

MTV lost its way for years as executives focused on developing reality programming that disregarded the “M” in “music television” entirely—think “Jersey Shore” in all its spray tan glory—but the current leadership hopes to return the network to its lyrical roots. If executives can channel today’s young music lovers’ fascination with social interaction and use these behaviors to enhance the “TRL” experience, they might just attract the audience they seek.

As for us oldies? We will probably take the Carson Daly route and leave well enough alone. If you need us, we’ll be off in the corner relearning the dance moves to “Bye, Bye, Bye” for old times’ sake.

(This post originally appeared on Storia.)

Reality TV Exploits Real-Life Drama — and Viewers Are to Blame

Everyone who’s ever watched multiple seasons of any given reality show knows that the producers are following some semblance of a script. Take the “Bachelor/Bachelorette” franchise, for instance. Each season features one set of archenemies that must ultimately endure a ‘dramatic’ two-on-one date. Sure, personalities are likely to clash when living in close quarters with strangers, but this level of conflict always comes around like clockwork. Throw in some whacky professions—such as Free Spirit, Chicken Enthusiast, and Tickle Monster, for example—and you’ve got yourself some entertainment value.

But, as viewers begin to grow weary of the tiresome cycle, producers have become desperate to spice things up now and then. When Kayleigh Morris of “Big Brother” was forcibly evicted recently, the star brought attention to how eager producers are to manufacture drama, even if it’s at the expense of the cast’s reputation.

Morris told Aisleyne Horgan-Wallace of The Sun that it’s “really frustrating, as I had so many happy times in the house, but only the bad parts were aired, which I guess is the nature of the beast, but still…” Reality TV surely offers an opportunity to achieve fame and fortune for those who maintain their dignity, but those who’re targeted as villains live on in infamy, nothing more.

Nothing, however, compares to the fiasco on the set of “Bachelor In Paradise.” While the summertime offshoot never garnered quite the audience of its parent series, producers have tried to up the ante each season by cultivating the most controversial cast members of seasons past. For the upcoming incarnation, Corinne Olympios (Nick Viall’s season) and DeMario Jackson (Rachel Lindsay’s season) were set to reprise their ‘roles’ for some fun in the sun. But, just days into filming, everyone was sent home so investigators could look into claims of sexual assault involving the two stars.

Prior reports claimed that both Olympios and Jackson had been drinking excessively throughout the day, and that an encounter may have taken place while Olympios was too intoxicated to consent. Since then, officials have concluded that no such assault happened, allowing the show to resume filming ahead of its August premiere date. Olympios retained representation in order to get to the bottom of this matter, while Jackson has been dealing with the ramifications of being portrayed as a rapist, guilty before proven innocent.

While I’m not one to disregard assault allegations, for I don’t doubt that there could’ve been foul play, I can’t help but wonder if ABC will use this incident to boost its audience—and viewers are to blame.

Essentially, viewers are the addicts and producers are our enablers. When excitement from the typical drama fails to satisfy our cravings, showrunners must find new ways to draw the audience back into the fray. Each hit must be more extreme than the one prior to ensure our satisfaction. We sit on the sidelines, complaining about how reality TV has gotten out of hand, yet we still tune in to gawk as the drama unfolds.

Of course, while I’d hope that this particular case wasn’t manufactured—for the sake of assault victims everywhere—I’m positive that ABC will use this story to lure viewers, old and new, as the premiere date draws near.

However, we have the power to condemn such exploitation, and doing so takes little effort. Next time you see a Kayleigh Morris-like outburst, just change the channel.


(This post originally appeared on Storia.)


Could the Fictional Suicide in ‘13 Reasons Why’ Inspire Real-Life Copycats?

Source: IMDb

It’s the latest title on everyone’s binge list. Yet, while Netflix’s “13 Reasons Why” has captured the imagination of countless viewers since its March debut, the most tweeted about show in TV history may also be one of its most controversial.

Based on the young adult novel by Jay Asher, the series revolves around Hannah Baker’s suicide and the cassette tapes she leaves behind. As you might’ve guessed, each tape explains one reason that drove her to take such drastic action. Producers behind the series, including Selena Gomez, hoped the fictional suicide would spark conversations about the state of mental health amongst tweens and teens. But school officials across the country are now warning parents about the show in their attempt to prevent copycat suicides.

Jia Tolentino, contributing writer for The New Yorker, writes, “Rather than starting a valuable conversation that could help students who are struggling with mental-health issues, the show, these schools fear, might push students with issues over the edge.”

Many administrators believe “13 Reasons Why” could romanticize the idea of suicide among the younger set, and rightfully so. Known as the Werther Effect, researchers have seen spikes in copycat deaths in response to celebrity or fictional suicides throughout history. Vulnerable parties often derive inspiration from examples in the media when seeking justification for their own impulses—and that’s precisely what has adults worried right now.

Source: IMDb

“For kids who are vulnerable, who suffer from depression and anxiety, it can be a trigger for suicidal idealization and that is of course a concern,” Anne Moss Rogers, who lost her 20-year-old son to suicide two years ago, told WTVR. If mainstream depictions of suicidal acts become ingrained in the fabric of modern pop culture, these hypothetical concerns might very well become real-life epidemics.

According to the American Association of Poison Control Centers, researchers noted a 50 percent increase in intentional exposures—the third most common form of suicide—by adolescents between 2012 and 2016. MarketWatch reports that, in 2016 alone, poison centers managed more than 76,500 cases of intentional exposures in young adults. Overall, incoming call volume to poison centers continues to decrease, but cases with more serious clinical outcomes, including death, have increased by 4.3 percent per year since 2000. Some centers, however, have seen an uptick in cases just since the show’s premiere.

Lee Cantrell, director of the San Diego division of the California Poison Control System, told MarketWatch that these suspected suicide cases are particularly worrisome. “In our center alone, adolescent suicide and suicidal intent cases for the month of April were the highest we have observed in the past two years. Many of the more recent calls have referenced popular television shows that include messages of suicide, sometimes glamorizing suicide or inspiring deadly copycat behavior.”

Source: IMDb

One group of teens, however, has made it their mission to counteract the potentially detrimental undertones of “13 Reasons Why” by creating their own mental health awareness campaign. The “13 Reasons Why Not” project aims to provide students of Oxford High School in Michigan with an outlet for their emotions so they can work through their struggles without resorting to self-harm.

Launched in honor of Megan Abbott, a former student who committed suicide in 2013, the group surprised their classmates with audio recordings broadcast over the school’s loudspeaker system. Not only did these students share their experiences with bullying, body shaming, and abuse, but they also added how the support they received saved them from the brink. It’s with this element of hope that the group aims to inspire those in need to seek the help they require.

Riley Juntti, one of the program’s leading organizers, has struggled with depression and suicidal thoughts for years, so this project holds special meaning, as she’s an advocate for suicide prevention. “I know this project was extremely emotionally painful for a lot of the participants to go through,” she wrote via Twitter. “I just hope someone took the meaning out of it that life is always worth living, there [are] people who love you, and your value is not tarnished by others perceptions.”

Source: IMDb

While “13 Reasons Why” has certainly cleared the path for honest discussions about mental health, entertainment outlets must also acknowledge the negative impact this runaway hit may have on its target market. As Patrick Devitt writes for Scientific American, “…the message that suicide can have simple, or a simple set, of causes, or that suicide represents some type of solution, is unfortunate. There is never one reason why, or even thirteen.”

Suicide awareness, in general, stands as another major issue, for global suicide rates have skyrocketed since the Great Recession. Close to 800,000 people die due to suicide every year, while many more attempt to take their own lives. Subsequently, millions of people are affected by or experience suicide bereavement every year, according to the World Health Organization.

Just as children now have easy access to Netflix and the news, we must also guarantee that they know where to find the resources they’ll need when life becomes overwhelming if we are to truly make an impact and save young lives.

If you or someone you know shows signs of suicidal thoughts or tendencies, you’re not alone. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifelineat 1 (800) 273-8255 or message the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 for access to crisis and support services. Suicide isn’t your only option. Please seek help before deciding to end your own life.


(This post originally appeared on Storia.)

We All Know Why They Announced the New “Bachelorette” Early

Fans of ABC’s “The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette” are accustomed to the formula by now. Producers allow the current season to play out. Then, shortly after the finale—sometimes during the ‘After the Final Rose’ broadcast itself—they announce that one of the show’s most recent rejects will headline the next season.

Of course, while current “Bachelor” Nick Viall wasn’t rejected by “Bachelorette” Jojo Fletcher, his two prior appearances on the show, plus his “Bachelor in Paradise” stint, made him the prime candidate. (Or ABC knew he’d never leave them alone unless they financed his own “journey” to find love—one or the other.)

Yet, despite causing much drama during both Andi Dorfman and Kaitlyn Bristowe’s seasons, Viall’s own adventures have been rather bland by comparison. ABC was probably banking on ratings gold, but even Chris Harrison can’t claim it’s the “most dramatic season ever” at this point.

That’s probably why ABC announced Rachel Lindsay will be the next “Bachelorette” an entire month before the finale—and long before her own “Bachelor” elimination, oddly enough.

When ABC revealed its choice, critics were thrilled that producers made this diverse casting decision. (She’s the first black lead in the show’s 20+ season history.) Bachelor Nation sighed one collective “FINALLY!” into the void, and that was that. But deep down, it’s not hard to see why ABC bucked tradition and made this announcement before Viall and Lindsay’s inevitable break-up: They wanted to boost Viall’s ratings!

By announcing Lindsay’s upcoming role before her exit this season, producers were able to redirect viewers’ waning interest from this season’s lackluster lead to next season’s groundbreaking star. Even those who’d become bored with Viall’s relatively by-the-book season gained renewed interest because they wanted to learn more about Lindsay.

Producers claim this announcement came earlier than usual in an effort to cast an exceptional array of men, but it’s obvious that they wanted people to invest in Lindsay’s “journey” long before those limos pull up in front of the “Bachelor” mansion next season. Viewers witnessed her heartbreak after the overnight dates and now viewers cannot wait to see Lindsay pursue love on her own terms.

ABC will do whatever it must to keep this stale series fresh. In this case, their strategy just might work.


(This post originally appeared on Storia.)