Don’t want to age?

As we research our ancestors, don’t be so anxious to join them this writer points out in a great New York Times piece …

“You know what’s anti-aging? Death. Let’s be happy we’re aging.”
Photo by Monica Garwood
— Carol Walker, the character played by Angela Bassett in the film “Otherhood”
New York Times, September 30, 2021
This is the final installment of “In Her Words.” Thank you, always, for reading and supporting our work.
By Lisa Selin Davis
When Kate Winslet won an Emmy this month for her performance in “Mare of Easttown,” she called her character a “middle-aged, imperfect, flawed mother” who “made us all feel validated.”
Ms. Winslet, 45, had something in common with the night’s other winning women. There was Hannah Waddingham, 47, from “Ted Lasso,” and Julianne Nicholson, 50, from “Mare of Easttown.” Gillian Anderson, 53, took the Emmy for supporting actress in “The Crown.” And Jean Smart, 70, won outstanding lead actress in a comedy series for “Hacks.” Women over 45 were suddenly the biggest winners of the small screen.
Compare this with the 1950 noir film “Sunset Boulevard.” Its protagonist, Norma Desmond, is a washed-up silent film star considered far too old to reinvent herself for the talkies.
Her age? Fifty.
Back then, and until quite recently, anything past 40 was considered ancient in Hollywood years. “It’s always been this youth-obsessed industry,” said Yalda T. Uhls, founder and executive director of U.C.L.A.’s Center for Scholars & Storytellers.
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Men could find roles whatever their age, but women might disappear from the screen during perimenopause, or emerge a few years later in supporting roles, usually as dowdy, eccentric or senile grandmothers, evil stepmothers or spinster aunts.
“If you were 45, or certainly 50 or over, these were the parts you could get: a dying patient or a meddling, horrible mother-in-law,” said Susan J. Douglas, a professor of communication and media at the University of Michigan and author of “In Our Prime: How Older Women Are Reinventing the Road Ahead.”
Even if some of these so-called hagsploitation films of the 1960s, like “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane” or “Hush … Hush, Sweet Charlotte,” were good films, they portrayed older women as mentally incapacitated or murderous.
Ageism is a pervasive problem, both in Hollywood and in the United States at large. The National Poll on Healthy Aging found that 82 percent of older adults reported experiencing ageism on a regular basis, including being exposed to ageist messages and jokes suggesting older adults are unattractive or undesirable. Women experienced more ageism than men, the poll found. Yet older adults’ attitudes toward aging were pretty positive: 88 percent reported feeling more comfortable with themselves as they got older.
A report from the Geena Davis Institute on Gender and Media concluded that even now, there is a dearth of roles for older actresses, and the roles that do exist portray them as senile, homebound, feeble or frumpy. In the highest-grossing films from Germany, France, Britain and the United States in 2019, there were no female leads over 50, the report said, and just one-quarter of characters over 50 were women. Only a quarter of films passed what the report called “The Ageless Test,” meaning they had one female character over 50 who was significant to the plot and was presented in “humanizing ways and not reduced to stereotypes.”
But it’s possible that this year’s Emmy winners are a sign of changing times, changing demographics, and changing — or long-ignored — tastes. So how did we go from “frail, frumpy and forgotten,” as the institute’s report is called, to Julia Louis-Dreyfus playing a hilarious, diabolical and still-sexy politician in “Veep,” or Sandra Oh starring as an embattled professor on “The Chair,” or Angela Bassett, Felicity Huffman and Patricia Arquette starring as unappreciated mothers who take back their lives in “Otherhood?
“We are in the midst of a demographic revolution,” Dr. Douglas said. As of 2019, there were just under 72 million baby boomers and over 65 million Gen Xers. “There are more women over 50 than ever before in our society. And millions of them are not really ready or eager to be told to go away and obsess about their grandchildren without participating in and doing other things.”
Amy Baer, president of Landline Pictures, which debuted earlier this year to focus on the over-50 crowd, said aging had become a much more “dynamic experience” — less about retiring than about starting something new. “They may have raised children and they’re finally at a place where they can focus on themselves professionally and personally,” Ms. Baer said. “They may be changing jobs. They may be finally falling in love after being professionally focused.”
She says this shift — living longer, living better — is just one reason that portrayals of older women in Hollywood are finally improving, both in number and scope. Women over 45 are being cast as leads in complex roles, sometimes the best roles of their careers.
It began with a couple of outlier films in the early 2000s, Ms. Baer said. Two romantic comedies from Nancy Meyers — “Something’s Gotta Give,” starring Diane Keaton and Jack Nicholson, and “It’s Complicated,” with Meryl Streep, Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin — portrayed women in their 60s as romantically desirable leads. The films had enough commercial success to alert industry gatekeepers to an untapped audience. They started to realize, Dr. Uhls said, “there’s a market we’re not exploiting here.”
That audience had both time and money, and was conditioned to going out to the movies, but could adapt to streaming. The media for and about this market appealed to other demographics, too. One of Netflix’s first streaming megahits, “House of Cards,” starred Robin Wright, who was 46 when the series debuted, as the frosty mastermind of the country’s most powerful couple. Not long after, “Grace and Frankie,” a comedy about two vibrator-designing octogenarians, Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin, became a hit among many different demographics; it’s now Netflix’s longest-running original series.
This content is “consistently successful and has crossover to a younger audience,” Ms. Baer said. “There’s an insatiable need for original content right now in the space that we’re in.”
When executives at the independent studio MRC Films approached her about Landline, Ms. Baer said she did a “back of napkin” analysis on 25 years’ worth of films for and about older people and found that almost all had good returns on investment. “I’m not saying they succeed on the level of a Marvel movie, but they absolutely are financially successful,” she said.
The key, Ms. Baer said, is telling the right kinds of stories, especially those that don’t pander to older people. “We’re creating content that is entertaining, relatable, and deals with life experiences that anyone over 50 is going through,” she said, but that people under 50 can also enjoy.
Landline’s first project, “Jerry and Marge Go Large,” will star Annette Bening and Bryan Cranston in the true story of a retired Michigan couple who found a loophole that allowed them to win big in the Massachusetts lottery and use the winnings to help their town.
Projects like these allow female actors who once would have had dwindling work opportunities to explore new parts of their ranges. Consider Frances McDormand’s Oscar-winning performance in “Nomadland,” or Ms. Winslet’s acclaimed role in “Mare of Easttown,” both roles that required looking like non-Hollywood types.
“Great actresses are kind of enjoying being nonglamorous and not trying to look 20,” Dr. Douglas said. “They’re looking their age and they’re proud of that and they work with it.”
Suddenly women are being celebrated for embracing their age. Or as Angela Bassett’s character, Carol Walker, says in “Otherhood”: “You know what’s anti-aging? Death. Let’s be happy we’re aging.”
“Every actress I’ve had a conversation with has been incredibly embracing of our mission and really excited,” Ms. Baer said. “These are all women who are still in the prime of their career and are not ready or old enough to simply play the grandmother.”
This is not to say that ageism will evaporate or that face-lifts will all of a sudden become obsolete (or that there’s anything wrong with playing the grandmother!). “We’ve got a real turnstile moment here,” Dr. Douglas said. “On the one hand, there are more older celebrities and public figures who are out there embracing their age, while at the same time we still have ageist stereotypes.”
The opportunities for older women are not without limitations, either. “Most of the roles are straight, white women,” she said, as the Emmys painfully revealed.
We urgently need more representations of older women of color, older queer women, older working-class women, and also more stories of strong female friendship, Dr. Douglas said.
Hopefully by next year’s Emmys, we’ll have more.

Join us in our African American Genealogy Journey … Today, Muhammad Ali’s first Attorney Alberta Odell Jones

Alberta Odell Jones, 1930 – 1965

Honoring the legacies of pioneering lives led me to my triumphant sorority sister, Alberta Odell Jones. She was a magnificent leader who became Louisville, Kentucky’s first African American City Attorney. She was the first female of any race and ethnic background to hold that post. Yet, despite her progress, including that of becoming Cassius Clay’s (Muhammad Ali) attorney who wrote his first boxing contract in 1960, she endured a tragic end-of-life at the hands of hateful people.

Take three minutes and read more about her.

Today, my mother reminded me that she has not received any genealogy social media posts from me. Oops. I have a few blog sites and social media sites that my cousin, Mark Owen, and I have host. Join on @GoodGenesGenealogy on WordPress. I invite you to go to our page and join the conversation.

Good Genes Genealogy also has a Facebook page and Twitter page. Since February 2021, our team began publishing e-book and now have moved to monthly online publications widely distributed on major sites and on our site.

Slaves’ survival in the wilderness sparks generations of Black Foragers

Growing up in Omaha, Nebraska and Chicago, Illinois, I am used to frequent ribbing about the Midwestern “foreign land.” It was while I was attending Clark College (now CAU, a HBCU) in Atlanta, Georgia, that I first became the subject of great humor about my Midwestern upbringing. It helped that my maiden surname is “Wead” (pronounced “Weed”) and for many of my Southern classmates, very little was known about the Black folk who lived in the Great Plains.

African Americans were integral to the forging of new territories in the great West. My family and hundreds of thousand of African American still live in every region west of the United States’ Mississippi River.

I highlight my beloved Midwest in a new e-book series. This month marks the kick-off of a Black Genealogy e-books that are available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Indie Books and our self-publishing book site, Lulu.com. https://www.lulu.com/en/us/shop/ann-wead-kimbrough-and-mark-owen/august-first-is-the-first-black-holiday-for-black-people/ebook/product-zv5pgd.html?page=1&pageSize=4

My cousin, Mark Owen and I, are the authors and the interior designer and coordinator is Veverly Byrd-Davis. The cover designer is an anonymous apprentice.

One of the chapters is about Nicodemus, Kansas, the first Black and only existing town west of the Mississippi that was settled by African American homesteaders who trekked from Kentucky during Reconstruction to establish a new life. It was tough and they were gritty. I also wrote about Nicodemus and other forgotten Black towns in the West in my other blog. See #25.

I love this NYT piece because it provides excellent sources who speak on the often neglected topics of everything from slaves’ inherent knowledge of wilderness to today’s harrassing and ignorant facts regarding those of us who will stop along the side of a road if we see a special bush that may be a healthy product when properly picked and cooked. There were a couple of stories over the last year that showcased the little-known relationships African Americans have with nature. There are African American outdoors enthusiasts who are hoping to break down barriers that exist about hikng, for instance.

While hiking in Indiana and in New York’s Central Park, violent and harrassing incidents captured global headlines based on ignorance from the inflicters.


I especially enjoyed the NYT references to the enslaved ancestors locating honey from trees and harvesting all sorts of berries and other healthy products from trees, limbs, bushes and from the earth.

Camp Lessons for Life

I was an early African American forager. I grew up as the only one in my household who went to every available that featured the great outdoors camp that my parents could afford. I recall taking our daily showers in stalls that allowed for the minor snakes and other creatures to share in the rustic settings. The campfire stores, especially the ones with scary outcomes in the stars-lit skies, were my favorites. I remember the silly and yet lasting chants such as those for catching ones’ elbows on the large dining hall’s long wooden tables. Here’s the chant:

"Ann ... Ann ... strong and able ... get your elbows off the table. This is not a horse's stall, but a first-class dining hall! 'Round the tables you must go, you must go, you must go. 'Round the tables you must go, you were naughty."

It was all in good fun and I learned valuable lessonson how to live with kids from diverse backgroounds. We celebrated our differences by sharing in all sorts of activities. It was the early “rope courses” and other skils and trust-building experiences I had as an adult member of teams ranging from the Atlanta Olympic Organizing Committee to Harvard University’s Graduate Education certificate program

Black Girl in the Black Hills

I also recall riding the horses along the ridges of the South Dakota Black Hills, however, this wonderful path is no longer open to the public. It was probably not safe when I was riding on it in the late 1960s, yet it was worth it. It was beautiful to see all views of the Black Hills along the former horse trails.

As I suggest in my other blog that I write with my cousin, Good Genes Genealogy on WordPress, please take an active role in learning more about your ancestor.

Homework: Utilize the NYT article and my blog as motivation to research your family’s ancestries about the early foragers. Happy trails!

Back to school: Unearthing African American injustices on U.S. college and university campuses

Check out the class session #24 Good Genes Genealogy blog for the full story.

A recent article about the University of Delaware’s findings regarding its New Jersey campus including the school’s 1950 stance against allowing African Americans their justified attendance. The students had to sue to attend the University of Delaware. The University of Delaware is not alone. Several universities are engaged in directed, meaningful research and results projects regarding its slave histories. These same institutions are creating architectural memorials of its enslaved histories such as the University of Virginia as shown below.

https://www.arch.virginia.edu/ien/projects-services/memorial-to-enslaved-laborers

Like me, many researchers rejoice when we locate our ancestors who attended colleges during post-slavery and during Jim Crow. Yet, as much attention should be directed to researching the ties African Americans and Afro Caribbeans have to universities and colleges through enslaved conditions. It may require that enslavers are researched first to link African American ancestors to the slave labor that was lent to building these institutions.

At the University of Georgia in Athens, recent developments led by the faculty and community stakeholders led to the unearthings and reburials of slaves in the cemetery behind its Baldwin Hall.

Archived video worth viewing. The discoveries of human remains in 2015 were recently completed.

What next?

I give a class assignment in the blog. Check it out and keep digging! https://wordpress.com/post/goodgenesgenealogy.com/2126