How New York Women in Film & Television Is Fighting Ageism in Cinema

F. Scott Fitzgerald famously said, "There are no second acts in American lives." Of course, it's a hyperbolic statement. After all, if you're like us, you're avid fans of VH1's Behind the Music, and according to last night's episode, Duran Duran is doing just fine nowadays. 

But Fitzgerald's quote does have a kernel of truth to it, especially when viewed through the lens of contemporary American cinema. One of the biggest barriers preventing actors, directors, and other cinema professionals from attaining a second act is the specter of ageism. (We're not sure if this is an appropriate barometer of the modern zeitgeist, but the Huffington Post has a separate section on its site called "Ageism in Hollywood.")  

The 69-year-old Helen Mirren, who won an Oscar in 2007 for her role in The Queen, noted, "It's ridiculous. And 'twas ever thus. We all watched James Bond as he got more and more geriatric, and his girlfriends got younger and younger. It's so annoying."

It's relatively easy for actors to speak out against ageism, because as famous actors, they have a platform. But what about directors? Or screenwriters? Who speaks for them? For an answer, we turn to New York Women in Film and Television (NYWIFT).

As IP readers may know, the organization is at the forefront in supporting women in cinema. Their support comes in the form of training and professional development, advocating for equity, and—you guessed it—grants. NYWIFT recently announced that screenwriter and filmmaker Rachel Feldman won this year's $7,500 Ravenal Foundation Grant, which supports the production of a dramatic feature film from a female, second-time film director over 40 years of age. Grant funds may be used for pre-production, production, or post-production.

This is the second year in which the NYWIFT has presented this award, which is funded by the Washington, D.C.-based Alan M. & Mildred S. Ravenal Foundation. Feldman was honored for her work on the screenplay Ledbetter, a suspense drama based on the true story of Lilly Ledbetter, the woman for whom President Obama named The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act. The script is an Athena List Screenplay award winner. Feldman will use the funds to direct the film.

Filmmaker Cornelia Ravenal, who initiated the grant, states, "Barriers in the entertainment industry, especially for women directors, are finally being exposed. But for women over 40, there’s an additional barrier: ageism. We hope this grant begins to address that inequity and encourages all women directors to forge ahead."  

For more information on grant makers who support women filmmakers, check out the Adrienne Shelly Foundation here and Sundance's efforts here.