The “Barbie” movie casting proves Hollywood ageism is alive and well

By Sophie Humphrey

As everyone has heard by now, the live-action Barbie film is due to hit our screens on July 21st, with Margot Robbie as Barbie, and Ryan Gosling playing her ‘golden retriever’ boyfriend, Ken.

With names like these at the centre of the screen, why did Gosling’s casting as Ken spark criticisms?

When the movie was first announced in January 2021, everyone was curious to see who would be cast as the leads. As the first photos of the actors were released, there was a mixed reception to Gosling’s appearance.

The image in question showed Gosling as we imagined Ken: orange, with obnoxiously white teeth and decked out in some double denim ensemble that would put 2000s Britney and Justin to shame. Twitter went insane in reaction to the photo tweeted by Warner Brothers.

While a lot of the replies to the pictures were positive memes or jokes, there were recurring comments on Gosling’s age. One tweet read: “an actor in his mid 20s would be better suited than a man in his 40s.” And other tweets just simply said he felt ‘too old’ for the role.

It’s interesting that everyone was thrilled when photos of his counter part, Margot Robbie, were released. Being 10 years younger than Gosling, there was no commentary on her age in comparison. This isn’t necessarily surprising, since Robbie’s look has always screamed ‘real-life Barbie’.

However, if we’re being pedantic, the Ken doll was first sold in 1961, so it would be 62 now! Talking real ages, Ryan Gosling can’t be too old to play a plastic doll.

Photo credit: MEGA/GC Images

Hollywood is and has always been riddled with ageism, which is often why there are very different reactions to male and female character castings. Usually, it is women who are affected by it more than men.

A-list actor Meryl Streep, known for her roles in Mamma Mia, Sophie’s Choice and Into the Woods has spoken out on the ageism she received in Hollywood. In 2015 in an interview with People Magazine she said the variety of roles she was offered decreased because she “was old at 40”.

Even with all her success and fame, she was pigeon-hold into playing the ‘witch’ or the villain. Many of Meryl Streep’s successful films came in the 2000s with Mamma Mia and the iconic Devil Wears Prada, but she was still victim of typecasting.

Arguably, Streep’s most recent successes came in the 2000s in films like Mamma Mia and The Devil Wears Prada, but her typecasting still remains. Success on-screen doesn’t stop ageism. it might lessens it, but actresses have to remain looking ‘young these days’ to be considered sexy.

Anything over 35 is considered ‘old’ and that is where the career decline begins.
If you compare Meryl Streep and Ryan Gosling’s post-40 careers, Gosling is still playing versatile roles.

Last year he starred as an FBI Agent in Netflix’s The Gray Man, he was a police officer in
Blade Runner 2049, and next year he will play a famous stuntman in The Fall Guy. At 42 he is still considered desirable and attractive in Hollywood. While over 40, he is still considered desirable and his casting as Ken just proves that.

Meryl Streep’s characters, however, see her playing the villain or a mother character of some sort. The characters are not known for their attractiveness or sex appeal, but for their compassion or scariness. Miranda Priestly, the editor of Runway Magazine or Donna Sheridan the care-free musical mother who lives with her daughter on a Greek island.

Depending on how success is measured, it does not mean her later roles are her most successful, but they are her highest grossing, according to IMDB. These may be her golden years, but it doesn’t mean she is exempt from the curse of ageism that plagues the actresses of Hollywood.

Actresses are constantly endorsing anti-aging products and being faced with the pressure to get plastic surgery to look younger.

When compared to actors in Hollywood, the pressure to stay looking young is simply not the same. That doesn’t mean that men in Hollywood don’t face ageism. The film industry is obsessed with enforcing a youth- obsessed culture on both men and women. Even then, under the picture of Gosling, you’d have to scroll quite far down to see any ageist comments.

A 2015 analysis by Time Magazine analysed the careers of over 6,000 actors and actresses, concluding women reach their career peaks on average around age 30, compared to 46 for men.

Young women are favoured in Hollywood over young men, and older experienced actresses. Hiring should be about finding the best fit for the character and not only based of their attractiveness.

Unfortunately, this still hasn’t changed. Data by Andrew Hanssen and Robet Fleck looked
at the trends between films from 1920 to 2011
. It showed women consistently received more leading roles than men in their 20s.

The number of leading roles by women in their 30s decreased to around 40% overall, and halved to 20% by age 40, compared to 80% for men by age 40. Actors have a longer career peak than actresses. Look at George Clooney or Pedro Pascal, their careers are more than thriving s they get older.

They’re making more money and they’re considered more attractive. Pascal has been praised as an actor for his recent role in the HBO Max adaptation of the video game series The Last of Us. One glance at TikTok will tell you that the Gen-Z girls are obsessed with him at 48.

At only 42, Ryan Gosling hasn’t even reached his career peak yet and is still booked with roles. In Hollywood, sex and desirability sell movie tickets and encourage streams. Attractiveness is not subjective, at least where women are concerned.

In the 2020s women still need to have ‘perky’ cleavage, with perfect skin and be absurdly thin, even if irrelevant to the role they’re playing.

Aside from being attractive, Gosling was apparently sought after to play Ken by director Great Gerwig, while older women have to fight for their spot. Women are sick of it and are speaking out against the sexism and ageism in Hollywood.

A quick Google search would show it is very hard to find actors who are doing the same.

Casting directors and studios need to stop focusing on conventional beauty standards and cast roles based on acting ability and likeness to the character.

Female characters are not one-dimensional love interests, mothers, or wives just because they’ve turned 30. Women do not need to be sexualised for male audiences to be able to do their jobs.


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