Powerful, Fabulous Women Over 55 on TV

BlogHer Original Post

Hollywood is no place for aging women, to be sure. By all accounts, it's incredibly brutal and oppressive to be an actress over 30, let alone in your fifties or sixties.  All the more reason to cheer, then, that some of the most powerful and memorable  performances on our screens right now are being filed by women who are (gorgeously, powerfully, unabashedly) older than ingenues. 

American Horror Story's distinctive mix of story, shock and camp might not be your bag, so you may be missing two outrageously badass characters who are powerful not in spite of, but because of, the gravitas and authority of their ages. The AHS plot and characters change each season. This year's story is called "Coven" and concerns a war between supernatural superstars. 

Marie Laveau on AHS
Image: Tumblr

Angela Bassett is drop dead stunning at 55. She commands every second she's on screen from her throne of bones and stuff, or hovering six feet above the ground over one of her spells, as Marie Laveau, the chillingly powerful Voodoo Queen of New Orleans.

Jessica Lange on AHS
Image: FX Network

Her worthy nemesis is the evil and enchantingly powerful super witch Fiona, played flawlessly by Jessica Lange, who is 64. Fiona is struggling with cancer as a symbol of the declines of age, but she's still more than a worthy opponent with nuanced powers and emotions that only an actress of Lange's experience, age and talent could portray.  

The Coven story has also featured Kathy Bates (65) and Frances Conroy (60) in jaw-dropping roles.  With news of an upcoming guest appearance by Stevie Nicks (65), AHS is in no danger of losing its position as the best gig for badass grown women. 

Margo Martindale on The Millers
Image: CBS Press Express

I don't love the CBS sitcom The Millers, but I do love Will Arnett so I've watched a few episodes, hoping it will get better. The brightest light on the show turned out to be Margo Martindale, who won an Emmy two years ago for her work as Mags on Justified.  Her talent elevates the mediocre writing in a fiercely tender way that manages to tell the story of many women her age (62) who are stuck in marriages and jobs that underutilize them while having their strengths and power misdirected and misunderstood. 

Christine Baranski on The Good Wife
Image: CBS Press Express

My favorite powerhouse moment of each week lately has been Christine Baranski on The Good Wife.  I don't think a  younger actress (Baranski is 61) could come close to nailing the complexity of law firm managing partner Diane Lockhart. Her triumphs and betrayals have cut deep, but Diane's strength triumphs because she already has endured and sacrificed so much, working for decades toward her goals.  She's portrayed as intelligent, sexy, drawn to a relationship full of conflict, ambitious, vulnerable, and both in charge and dependent. 

There are more. A few months after watching Orange is the New Black, Kate Mulgrew 's  portrayal of Red is still on my mind.  She is 58, and portrayed Red in a way that captured matriarchal power in its many permutations. Most of the talk about Scandal centers around Olivia Pope, but Kate Burton (56) shines in her small part as the Vice President.

But there aren't enough great characters featuring women over 50 as we should be seeing, nor near enough gender parity on television overall. Comparing the spots of women of all ages to the number of roles available to men in their early 30s is depressing, a call to action, and all the more reason to celebrate the great women on screen now.

Do you have any favorites on television each week to add to this list?

 

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