David Fincher’s period drama “Mank” shines a light on the personal and professional drama of Hollywood’s golden age, but as a lot of women pointed out after it debuted over the weekend on Netflix, it also inadvertently shined a light on Hollywood’s enduring problems with sexist and ageist casting decisions.
The film, which covers the battle between Citizen Kane screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz and director Orson Welles over the writing credits for “Citizen Kane,” stars 62-year-old Gary Oldman as Mankiewicz, who in reality was only 43. That works in part because Mankiewicz was, famously, an alcoholic whose dangerously excessive drinking made him look decades older than he was, and ultimately killed him at age 55.
But as noted by writer Emily Nunn, Mank’s wife, who in real life was the exact same age, is played by 33 year old Tuppence Middleton. The two of them had been married since 1920 (which means had she really been 33 in 1940, when the film largely takes place, she would have been 13 when she got married.) “We don’t feel invisible,” Nunn tweeted. “You erase us.”
Herman J. Mankiewicz’s wife, Sara, was born in 1897, the same year as her husband. In the David Fincher movie Mank, she is played by a 33 year old actress. Gary Oldman, who plays Mankiewicz, is 62. We don’t feel invisible. You erase us.
— emily nunn (@EmilyRNunn) December 7, 2020
Nunn goes on to note that “there doesn’t seem to be a single woman over 40 in the cast,” which a quick glance bears that out. And speaking of age discrepancies, it isn’t just the casting of Sara Mankiewicz, the film also downshifted the age of the other prominent female role, Marion Davies, the silent era Hollywood star whose longtime relationship with publisher William Randolph Hearst inspired a large part of the plot of “Citizen Kane.” Davies was the exact same age as the Mankiewiczs, but here’s she’s played by 35-year old Amanda Seyfried while Hearst is played by the very age-approiate 74-year-old Charles Dance.
And as a lot of people inspired by Nunn’s observation pointed out, this kind of vast age gap between actors and actresses is all too common in Hollywood.
I guess in the next Hollywood movie about politics, Janet Yellen will be played by Margot Robbie or Jennifer Lawrence.
— Cheryl2020 (@CherylPress1) December 7, 2020
At 37, Maggie Gyllenhaal was told she was too old to play the love interest to a 55 year old. Never mind that was the same age difference she had with Spader in Secretary.
— Trillian Spencer (@TotallyTrillian) December 7, 2020
Yup. Charlayne Woodard was 65 when they cast her as Samuel L Jackson’s MOM in Glass
Jackson was 5 years *older* than her
But they didn’t think this would confuse people
— kim jansen (@lefthandwoman) December 7, 2020
We are supposed to be invisible to a society that praises bodies and looks. If we fall in love we are categorize as foolish (hombre verde)
Is like if age is allowed to put wrinkles on our face and locks on our hearts and sexuality
— Maria Nieves Mercado (@chikyruiz321) December 7, 2020
It is so blatant. Lots of unattractive out of shape men (white) sharing the screen with young, outwardly perfect, 1 dimensional women. The television and movie industry perpetuates and thrives on sexism, despite wanting to give the appearance of having evolved on the issue.
— elizabeth demaras (@ldemara) December 7, 2020
I miss the late 70’s when you had actresses who didn’t look like eternal teenagers playing adults – Teri Garr, Melinda Dillon, Mary Steenburgen, Shelly Duvall etc.
— Brontebrat (@brontebrat) December 7, 2020
Outrageous!! Robin Wright, Jodi Foster (worked w/ Fincher in Panic Room), Helen Hunt Julianne Moore, Laura Linney. Nicole Kidman is a great character actor, cares most about director & Fincher fits. Multitude of female actors who would be great. This movie needs a boycott.
— …@Right__Wrong (@popo4crazytown) December 7, 2020
To be honest, we have a difficult time disagreeing with any of this. It’s not like there’s a lack of talented, award-worthy actresses over 40 who could go toe to toe with Gary Oldman onscreen. (looking at you, Meryl Streep. Or Jane Fonda. Or Nicole Kidman.) Casting either historically too-old or age appropriate men for all the male roles while casting decidedly younger for all female roles feels like a choice, not a requirement of the script. Do better, Hollywood.