In an interview with Howard Stern Wednesday, Olivia Wilde admitted that she wasn’t cast as the female lead Naomi in “The Wolf of Wall Street,” starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Jonah Hill, because she was too old.
According to the Los Angeles Times, Wilde recalled that after her audition, she was told she was “too sophisticated” for the role. Thinking of this rejection as a sort of compliment, Olivia didn’t think any more on the movie until the casting notes showed that the 32-year-old actress, who was 28 at the time, was in fact too old for the gig.
Wilde then landed a lead on the HBO series “Vinyl,” which was directed by Martin Scorsese, who also directed “The Wolf of Wall Street.” Wilde didn’t draw attention to her audition notes to cause an ageism scandal, she was merely mentioning in a roundabout way that although “The Wolf of Wall Street” didn’t work out, “Vinyl” did. As they say, when one door closes, another opens.
Though Wilde’s story has an arguably happy ending and Margot Robbie absolutely crushed it as Naomi, these casting comments made me pause. Wilde had no intention to speak to the exaggerated youth and beauty standards for women in the film industry, but her honest interview inadvertently showed not only these standards, but also the acceptance of them by many of the actresses they penalize.
Hollywood, specifically the film industry, has the most palpable gender inequality and aggressive beauty standards for women. These beauty standards generally mean that more roles are given to youthful actresses. Variety reported that a 2015 study found that women more than 40 years old only account 30 percent of characters that age, while men’s equivalent is 53 percent.
Because the characters are younger, the casting will generally also follow this trend. This youthful standard has two important implications for females both in the industry and in the audience. First, having a majority of young characters indicates that the value of the female begins and ends in her youth. And this is not only for the exciting plot of the movie, but also for the actresses themselves.
Second, by limiting women on screen to a single decade, women get less screen time. Just 29 percent of lead characters in films are female, Variety reported. This means that women are held in a double bind not just to their youth, but also to the limited plot possibilities that young characters can participate in. There just aren’t that many diversely aged women in film because there are no films about diversely aged women.
Amy Schumer starred in a skit entitled “Last F—able Day,” in which she and other female comedians celebrated the last day in the industry that they could be f—ed conceivably. They had reached their so-called expiration date as actors and could no longer land roles with any youthful connotations.
Though casting directors have a right to cast whomever they feel fits a role in terms of both talent and a certain aesthetic, women have such a small window of aesthetics to fit into. The film industry has yet to tell the full story of a woman, because it ignores a good majority of her life.
The problem that Wilde presented in her interview is not just ageism in the film industry, but instead a systemic flaw in films themselves. Female-led films focus on only one type of hyper-feminine and young female. And because of this strict categorization and stereotype, films fail to represent any female.
Wilde and many fellow actresses accept that they don’t “fit the role” because they have been socially trained to submit to what Amy Schumer calls the “Last F—able Day.” Wilde inadvertently exposed the ingrained beauty and youth standards of Hollywood that she has unfortunately submitted to in order to keep her career, whereas her male counterparts were never threatened.