Helen Mirren criticises Hollywood's male obsession with the penis
Dame Helen Mirren has lambasted Hollywood for its treatment of older women, accusing film producers of worshipping "at the altar of the 18- to 25-year-old male and his penis".
The Oscar-winning actress said there were not enough roles for women and “very brilliant” female colleagues were struggling to survive while mediocre actors climbed to the top of the profession.
The 65-year-old, who won international plaudits for her performance as The Queen, also dismissed claims that she had endured because she was attractive, saying her looks were “bloody irrelevant”.
Accepting an award for leadership at the annual Women in Entertainment awards in Los Angeles, Dame Helen asked the audience: “Aren’t you sick of being told what you can and can’t do?”
“I’ve seen too many of my brilliant colleagues, who work non-stop in their 20s, their 30s, and their 40s, only to find a complete desert in their 50s,” she said, “and no work means no income”.
“I resent having witnessed in my life the survival of some very mediocre male actors and the professional demise of some very brilliant female ones.” Dame Helen has been acclaimed in Britain since joining the Royal Shakespeare Company in the 1960s, and became best known as Detective Jane Tennison in the 1990s television drama Prime Suspect.
But she did not break into Hollywood’s major league until her 60s, after her title role in Stephen Frears’s 2006 The Queen won her the top prize for women at the Oscars and Golden Globes.
“With all due respect to you many brilliant and successful women in this room,” she said, “really not too much has changed in the canon of Hollywood filmmaking that continues to worship at the altar of the 18- to 25-year-old male and his penis,” she said. “Quite small, I always think.” Dame Helen’s speech was met with laughter and whoops of joy. She was hailed as a heroine by Halle Berry, a fellow past winner of the Best Actress Oscar, who presented her with the leadership award.
“Helen, you have single-handedly, all by yourself, broken down that barrier because you can age, you can do films that are successful and you can still be hot as hell,” she said.
Berry became the first black woman to win the Oscar for Best Actress, for her performance in 2001’s Monsters Ball. She described ageism as the “last bastion of civil rights in the movie business”.
In her speech, Dame Helen also lamented the ongoing under-representation of women “on our public stages of law, politics, commerce, science and engineering”.
“Unappreciated, underused and ill-used,” she said. “Undervalued, undernourished, uneducated, unsung. What is happening to that incredible global resource called women, the only future of the human race?”
During a later interview with The Hollywood Reporter, which organised the awards, Dame Helen was asked how she felt about attracting new admirers thanks to “having sex appeal in your 60s”.
She said: “A bit cross, actually. We have to let go of this crap. It creates even more pressure on women, and I certainly don’t want to be a part of that. I’m not beautiful: I clean up nice … The fact that I look good at the age I am is bloody irrelevant.”