Commentary: Oscars so old? Who says Hollywood wants only young actors
There were a lot of overdue triumphs to celebrate at the Oscars on Sunday night. Michelle Yeoh became the first Asian woman to win the lead actress trophy. This was the first Academy Awards show where two Asian performers won acting Oscars. The costume designer Ruth E. Carter became the first Black woman to win two Academy Awards — for anything.
Here’s another notable stat: Everyone who won an acting Oscar on Sunday night was over the age of 50. In an industry and a town obsessed with youth, where doing everything possible to erase any sign that you’re over 35 (OK, 30) is expected, these talented actors who made it past the half-century mark are still being hired for Oscar-worthy work.
Not that it was easy.
Ke Huy Quan, the youngest of the group at 51, was cast in “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” when he was 12 but went long periods with little acting work. Jamie Lee Curtis has made a number of memorable movies (“A Fish Called Wanda” and “True Lies” among them) but toiled for years in a horror film franchise and Activia commercials before being cast in “Everything Everywhere All at Once.”
The plan to cut the presentation of eight winners from the show on Oscar night is wrongheaded and won’t save that much time anyway.
Brendan Fraser, 54, was a box office star (“Encino Man”), but he grappled with injuries from stunt work and saw his career slow over the years before he landed “The Whale.”
Of course, it’s not that older actors don’t win Oscars. Last year the awards for actors went to Will Smith (who can forget?) for “King Richard” and Troy Kotsur for “CODA” — both 53 at the time. And in 2021, lead actress winner Frances McDormand was 63 and supporting actress winner Yuhjung Youn was 73. The lead actor award that year went to then-83-year-old Anthony Hopkins (who currently holds the record for oldest actor winner). Supporting actor Daniel Kaluuya was the baby of the winners at 32.
But Hollywood is particularly hard on older actresses — harder than on male actors — so they don’t talk about their age. The performers’ union SAG-AFTRA pushed for years to get IMDb — the Internet Movie Database — to let actors scrub their birthdates off the website. (IMDb eventually agreed to let any entertainment professional in the database decide what demographic information could be mentioned.)
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So it was particularly empowering to see actresses over 50 not just winning this year but reveling in winning at their ages. “I’m 64 years old!” Curtis exclaimed when she won a Screen Actors Guild award in late February for “Everything Everywhere All at Once.” “And this is just amazing.” Curtis, who won the supporting actress Oscar, has never tried to hide her age, letting her hair go gray and often saying she tried cosmetic surgery but has sworn it off.
Yeoh, who has starred in action films for years and more recently in “Crazy Rich Asians,” happily blurted out that she had turned 60 as she accepted a Golden Globe a couple of months ago for “Everything Everywhere All at Once.”
She won her lead actress Oscar for the movie Sunday night. “And ladies, don’t let anyone ever tell you you are past your prime,” Yeoh said on the Oscars stage, looking every bit in her prime in a white Dior couture gown with feather-like fringe and dangling diamond earrings.
The embrace of age reminded me a little of the late Jessica Tandy winning a lead actress Oscar for “Driving Miss Daisy” in 1990. I covered the awards ceremony for the Washington Post that year. Backstage where the winners speak to the media, one reporter informed Tandy that she was the oldest winner of the lead actress award.
“Am I the oldest? Well, good for me!” she said. I remember her beaming as she said it. She still holds that record. But the record for best embrace of being a woman 60 or older may now go to Yeoh and Curtis. #OscarsSoProudlyOld.
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