On Screen—Shaking Up those Tired Old Gender Assumptions

Nancy Meyers and Ilene Chaiken, nearly unknown outside Hollywood circles until a few months ago, have each mounted a challenge to the entertainment industry’s assumption about what sells on screen. Turns out that television viewers and moviegoers want more than young women with flawless skin and hips to play female leads.

In her film Somethings Gotta Give, screenwriter Nancy Meyers, 54, gives us Diane Keaton as Erica Barry, a woman playwright in her mid-50s who is divorced, successful, and sexy. Reporters in the Jewish press who have written about the movie have assumed that the Erica is also Jewish, a fact that Meyers, when interviewed, has not reflated. (Keaton  received a Golden Globe for her role; at  press time she had been nominated for an Oscar) In a nod to reality, the character (like the actress who plays her) sports actual age lines in her face. And—here’s a delectable twist—Keaton’s character has two boyfriends, one a much younger doctor (Keanu Reeves), the other a sixtyish Lothario (Jack Nicholson). And while some criticize Meyers’ fantasy depiction of what middle age is like for most single women, the film has clearly struck a chord. Finally, it seerns, Hollywood is waking up to something that Europeans have long known—that women often become more desirable as they mature.

Ilene Chaiken, 46, is the creator and executive producer of Showtime’s hot and controversial new series The L-Word, about a posse of L.A. lesbians, including one who, like Chaiken, is a Jewish writer. Chaiken, who lives in Los Angeles with her female partner of 20 years and their 8-year-old twin daughters, has had a longtime association with Showtime. She told the press that when she first pitched her L-Word idea to the cable network three years ago, nobody took her seriously.