The best award of the 2023 awards season: The reminder that women don’t have to peak in their 20s
‘Ladies, don’t let anybody tell you you’re ever past your prime,’ Michelle Yeoh said in her acceptance speech for best actress
All hail the queens of the 2023 award season: Jennifer Coolidge, Jamie Lee Curtis and Michelle Yeoh. All over 60. All thriving.
Awards season has the tendency to be a superficial celebration of art — golden statuettes, gift bags that cost more than your car, designer ballgowns and after-parties for all the celebrities who weren’t invited to the award show. But this awards season came with a silver lining. It taught us a lesson: Women don’t need to peak in their 20s.
Hollywood (like other Western cultures) worships youth — especially in women. Leonardo DiCaprio has never dated anyone over 25, Gwyneth Paltrow eats bone broth for lunch to stay stick-thin and studies show that actress’s careers take a nosedive after they hit 30.
Women’s careers should not fade with youthful beauty. This tendency gives way to the toxic ideology that female value is tied to looks, especially when they are young. Jennifer Coolidge, Jamie Lee Curtis and Michelle Yeoh are all beautiful in their own right, but they don’t have the same youthful glow as Hollywood’s current it-girl Florence Pugh. No one looks the same at 20 as they do at 60. But — like other women in their 60s — they still have so much to offer.
2023’s award season queens are all on a comeback
Coolidge, Curtis and Yeoh all faced a similar problem: Once they hit their mid-30s, career opportunities became scarce. And it’s a big problem in Hollywood.
According to a 2015 study from Time magazine, female actors reach their professional pinnacles at 30, while male actors peak at 46 and remain in high demand until they are about 65.
Hollywood prefers to give leading lady roles — the kinds of roles that win awards — to young women. Actresses between 25 and 30 often co-star with men almost twice their age.
In the 2014 film “Birdman” (which won an Oscar for best picture), Emma Stone, who was 26 at the time, starred with Edward Norton, who was 45. And in the 2003 award-winning movie “Lost in Translation,” Scarlett Johansson was 19 and her love interest was played Bill Murray, who was 52, per Vulture.
During their younger years (in the ’80s, ’90s and early 2000s), Coolidge, Curtis and Yeoh starred in dozens of movies. Curtis’ talent led to Golden Globe nominations in 1989, 1990, 1992, 1995, 1996 and 2004. But for nearly two decades, she couldn’t get the roles needed to progress her career.
“I have been retiring from an industry that retires you without you having a say in it,” Curtis said, per The Washington Post. “The jobs leave you.”
“The reality is that 99% of the people I met at the Oscar luncheon have never hired me,” Curtis said after her Oscar nomination for “Everything Everywhere All At Once,” per The Washington Post.
Yeoh and Coolidge suffered similar challenges. After decades of what Coolidge called “cute little jobs,” director Mike White gave her an opportunity to prove her worth as a star in “The White Lotus.” She won an Emmy, Golden Globe and other awards for her performance this year.
“I just want you all to know that I had such big dreams and expectations as a younger person, but what happened is they get sort of fizzled by life and whatever,” Coolidge said in her Golden Globe award acceptance speech, per Vulture. “Mike White, you have given me hope. You’ve given me a new beginning. ... He gives me so much excitement to be — you make people want to live longer, and I didn’t.”
Yeoh had a series of roles that made her one of the most recognizable female Asian actors. She co-starred with Jackie Chan in “Supercop” and played a leading role in the James Bond franchise in “Tomorrow Never Dies.” She developed a reputation for her fighting and stunts.
But after Yeoh got married in 1988, she thought her career was over — she wanted to make time for her family. “I’m in awe of women who can juggle an amazing career, motherhood and family. I cannot,” she said, per the Independent.
When she was ready to get back to acting, it took time for Yeoh to find the right roles. “Everything Everywhere All At Once” was the role of a lifetime.
“You know what, I did. I waited a long time for this, and luckily it came. Some people wait their whole life and the opportunity might never come,” Yeoh told the Independent. “I was patient. I was resilient. I never stopped learning. And so I was ready when the opportunity did present itself.”
During Yeoh’s Oscar acceptance speech for her performance in “Everything Everywhere All At Once,” she offered aging women a reminder.
“This is proof that dreams, dream big, and dreams do come true. And ladies, don’t let anybody tell you you’re ever past your prime,” said Yeoh, per the New York Post.