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‘Mother-F*ers of Invention: Women in Geriaction’ – by the University of Tennessee’s Chris Holmlund, Leverhulme Visiting Professor
“Geriaction” originally referred to the question of how to keep elderly, largely female, patients in nursing homes active. In the last decade it has been applied to aging stars in action films. Suddenly the gender emphasis shifted. These days popular and academic critics talk about white male stars from the 1980s who continue to appear in action, now aged 60-, 70-, and 80-plus.
Comparatively little attention has been paid to women in geriaction movies, though increasing numbers of older female actors are working part-time, largely in supporting roles, in English-language action. To think geriaction in relation to women and to performance, I look at two actresses who are among the most beloved and influential mother-f*ers of action invention: Pam Grier and Sigourney Weaver. Born in 1949, both turn 70 this year. Both continue to work in action-related movies, though Grier no longer stars in them and Weaver rarely does. How do age, race and reputation impact casting and influence reception? When women appear in geriaction, is physical strength necessary or might know-how and skill, spirit and spunk, compensate for decreased agility and wider waistlines? Do older female characters achieve mastery? What kind of mastery, if so?
How we treat aging and the elderly is culturally conditioned. Geriaction films play a part. What might the performances that bad asses like Pam Grier and Sigourney Weaver have given over the past two decades suggest for the future?
Chris Holmlund has long been interested in action film, stardom and performance. Her books include Female Trouble (2017) and Impossible Bodies (2002). She edited The Ultimate Stallone Reader (2014) and American Cinema of the 1990s (2008) and co-edited Contemporary American Independent Film (2005) and Between the Sheets, In the Streets: Queer, Lesbian, Gay Documentary (1997). She is working on a book on Action Films, Action Stars for Routledge. She is currently Leverhulme Visiting Professor at the University of Reading.