Social Commentary

The Non-Existence of the 50 Plus Year Old Woman in T.V and Film: Our Stories

I must admit the slow down of COVID-19 lock-down was a welcome break, albeit I was still working (grateful). However I didn’t have to tackle the morning commute – traffic or subway breakdowns.  There was stillness in the air, a calm energy that was different. I could hear the birds chirping in the mornings – they were the main performance not relegated to the background of the normal hustle bustle of human life.  It was lovely. It was solace, amid a devastating pandemic gripping the world. Families were forced to stay home, companies and organizations shut down, most things came to a halt. If there was ever a time for the demand of content, this was it. As I scanned the cable channels and streaming platforms, it became glaringly obvious – after watching a few shows and movies and clicking them off within 10 minutes of the start – that there wasn’t much that resonated with me. Where were the shows for the 50 plus year old woman, or the 50 plus woman of colour? There’s an absence of women who look like me.

That’s both age and race , and the subject matter that speaks to 20, 30, 40 plus years of experiences –  15 plus years of marriage, or divorce, empty nesting, spinster living, adventurous lives, climbing the corporate ladder or not,  spiritual growth and so much more. Social scientists 100 years from now are going to think we had these non-existing existences.  We’re being forcibly placed into a sexless, useless and boring stereotypical box confined to the dark, mysterious  basement that elicits interest that’s overruled by fear. 

We simply … don’t exist, seemingly not as a demographic to entertain. You may get a background glimpse or some stereotype of a cranky mother in law or the like; but rarely the main character or subject matter that speaks directly to us.  Seeing our own experiences in films, sitcoms and dramas, would be entertaining  while affirming our existence and our contributions to society.  Certainly, our experiences can provide wisdom and richness that broader (younger and older women, men) audiences can glean from, while entertaining everyone. 

Hot flashes, dating with hot flashes, sex with hot flashes? Surely, you can see the comedic spin on that one. We were born in a time when we could comfortably say, there would never be a Black American president in our life time to sitting nervously in front of the television on November 4, 2008;  jumping up with happy tears, and emotions filled with hope against a history of oppression and violence. We’ve gone from having to straighten our kinky hair to be seen as professionals, to laws protecting us and our natural hair and living with the internalized hatred that goes with it. We’ve lived rich and diverse lives: happily married, miserably married, single, spinsters, divorced, lesbian, wealthy, barely surviving, date inter racially, have mixed kids,well travelled, never left the block, explorers, executives, business owners, single mothers,  university educated, mothers, daughters, healthy, fit, unhealthy, unfit, open minded, closed minded, religious, not religious, spiritual, sexy, cancer survivors, me too survivors. We’ve gone from caring about what society thinks to not giving a @#%. Can you imagine all the dramatic films, sitcoms, romantic comedies that can be written from all those lived experiences?  

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy Issa Rae, Queen Soro and a few other shows – but they are all about 20 somethings – dating, looking for husbands and their sexual adventures. Some of us are doing the same in our 50’s (even dating younger men) but the experiences of 20, 30 yrs, just makes for a different set of relatable jokes, freedoms and strengths that only come with living … a little bit longer.  

We were once in our 20’s and 30’s, the demographic that networks catered to. We enjoyed shows that pushed the boundaries of our time, that gave us a voice that confirmed our experiences. A Different World, had us heading off to college away from home. There was Ally McBeal, Yvette Lee Bowsers, Living Single, Girlfriends, and the ever popular Sex in the City. I watch Sex in the City reruns, and I  recently saw on social media that they are going to show repeats of Girlfriends and a few other shows. 

But I have a better idea, if I may say so myself, I enjoyed those shows and they are sure to bring back great memories of those times in my life. But instead, it would be even more awesome to create shows that speak to what Ally McBeal is doing now in her 40’s and 50’s.  What happened to the characters of Joan, Lyn,Toni and Maya of Girlfriends in their late 40’s /50’s. How about, Yvette Lee Bowsers, Living Single, what’s Queen Latifah’s character Khadijah doing now with Flavour, did it turn into an online magazine, did Max continue practicing law? 

Having said that, I’m not saying to specifically recreate these shows with the same characters later in life, I’m saying those characters and those who loved and resonated with those shows are older, and still around. We exist. And like the characters in these shows represent a diverse set of women from various socio-economic backgrounds – not stereotypical race and gender roles, all real and represent society.  

Surely Warner Brothers, Sony Pictures, Lions Gate, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Amazon, Netflix, Tyler Perry and BET can produce films, sitcoms, dramas for us. A couple ideas of where to start,  hire the writers and producers who worked on those shows (listed above) and aged alongside the rest of  us. The likes of Yvette Lee Bowser, Mara Brock Akil, Ava DuVernay and of course Shonda Rhimes and I’m sure a myriad of others who have managed to remain behind the scenes. And of course  the actors, casting women who are actually in their 40’s 50’s and 60’s. They include the ones who seem to have constant gigs like Halle Berry, Jennifer Aniston, Angela Bassett, Jessica Chastain, Julianne Moore, Taraji P Henson, Tracey Ellis Ross, and Viola Davis, along with others who we don’t see that often and those we don’t  know yet because the roles haven’t been written to expose their talents on a broader scale.   Some of the women from those shows listed above, may also be available.  

If media houses are hemming and hawing because there’s a concern about profitability, 40 and 50 yr. olds have disposable incomes! Yes – we are the so-called sandwich generation, with less of us than the baby boomers and Generation Y, but there is enough of us for someone to make some money off. It might be worth it to take a risk – look what happened with Black Panther – it made billions at the box office. 

We’re parents, happily single, university educated, high school grads, and more. We take care of ourselves – we’re physically active, we eat (it’s true), we still enjoy fashion and are probably more adventurous than we were ever before.  Oh yes, and please make sure the angle of these shows are about women who embrace their experiences, their mature bodies, wrinkles – not trying desperately to reverse the clock but taking care of themselves mentally, physically and spiritually. There’s  beauty in that, and if its true that sex sells, there is a sexiness evoked from the confidence of a woman who’s found her voice, has woken to the double standards and doesn’t give a #$%^ about what society thinks of her. It’s a special kind of sexy, the kind that only comes with age. 

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