Listen, I adore Meryl Streep. She is gorgeous and funny and absurdly accomplished. But I’m extremely tired of her getting hired to play every female character over the age of 50.
I think the breaking point for me was the news that Streep’s been cast to play to play Violet Weston, the poisonous matriarch of the family at the center of Tracy Letts’ play August: Osage County. It’s a terrific piece of theater, and very hard to watch: Violet is an addict, and she abuses her relatives terribly when they come together to bury her husband. What makes her powerful is her abandonment of dignity and her insistence that she’s superior anyway. Violet’s raving and out of her mind and because she’s telling enough truth, she’s able to play everyone around her. Streep does goofy or self-deprecating, occasionally, but I can’t think of a movie where she’s been genuinely unhinged, comfortable utterly abandoning the regalness that’s her signature.
So why cast her? All three actresses who played Violet on Broadway—Deanna Dunagan, Estelle Parsons, and Phylicia Rashād—are alive, healthy, and working. If you want an actress who has film and television credibility, Parsons won an Academy Award for her Best Supporting Actress turn in Bonnie and Clyde and did 59 episodes of Roseanne. Rashād is less famous, but she’s still familiar to audiences from The Cosby Show and Cosby, and she’s on Psych. You don’t have to go with Streep to go with an actress who is already prominent and has a proven ability to nail this particular role.
Handing Streep all of these roles without seriously considering other actresses in her age range puts Streep in the same position as Will Smith. Her prominence lets the industry simultaneously say that of course they take women of her age seriously, while also suggesting that no other actress would be able to do what Streep does, so they don’t have to cast or build movies around anyone else. They’re both ways for the industry to prove that they aren’t uncomfortable with diversity per se while avoiding making any substantive changes that would make movies demonstrably more diverse both in who they star and what kinds of stories they tell. I don’t begrudge Streep work in general. But she’s not actually the best actress for every single role for a woman over 50.