The Role of TV's “Token Grandma.”

Julie Walters as Mrs. Austen, wearing a giant hat

British actress Julie Walters recently complained that despite a long and fruitful career in English TV, movies, and theater, she’s been put out to pasture as the “token gran.”

The 63-year-old told a gathering at the U.K. Women of the World festival that she doesn’t get nearly as many scripts as she used to, and those she does get are for roles “you don’t want to do, the less interesting, the token gran, or the token mum, not an interesting mum or interesting gran.”

True enough: Even though Walters has remained busy in recent years, her 86 IMDB credits include major recent roles as moms in the Harry Potter films (Molly Weasley) and the 2007 romanticized Jane Austen origin story starring Anne Hathaway (in which Walters is credited as simply “Mrs. Austen”).

There’s nothing wrong with women over 60 playing characters who happen to be grandmothers or mothers. The problem is that the only people Hollywood seems to want as protagonists are in their twenties and thirties, which relegates older women to playing matriarchal figures in service to the young people’s plots, as if nothing worth telling happens to any women who are over 60.  

As Walters said in a previous Telegraph piece, “There is this idea that appealing to youth is the only way forward. But that is no longer the case. Youth is not everything. Now we have all the baby-boomers in their sixties, like me, who are actively engaged in life — we’re not retiring, we’re not just being put out to grass once we hit 60.” Her remarks echoed a similar discussion about older women in TV news that erupted earlier this year in the U.K.

The key to change lies in hiring more women, particularly older ones who can write about their experiences and cast women their age—more Nancy Meyerses and Nora Ephrons, a phenomenon absent from U.S. television writer-producers. As Walters said, “There are an awful lot of us my age and we’ve all benefited from education, so there’s an awful lot of women producers [and] women directors now, when I started out there were never women cameramen, there are now, in all walks of life, it is changing.”

Here’s to hoping we start seeing more of that on American small screens.

Read the whole “Women of a Certain Age” series about older women in media!

by Jennifer Keishin Armstrong
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1 Comment Has Been Posted

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day is one of my favorite movies, and it's largely because the protagonist is different from most I see. I love that she has already lived through what Hollywood would usually make the focus of a film and she's allowed to grow/change over the course of the movie. It's very refreshing. I wish it was more common.

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