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Nicole Holofcener Fights Sexism By Making Movies About Women Over 40

Nicole Holofcener and Ben Mendelsohn on the set of the Land of Steady Habits.
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Since first coming on the scene in 1996 with poignant chick-flick Walking and Talking, Nicole Holofcener has made films about women who feel real, typically with a comedic edge.

Not only are films made by women a minority in popular cinema, films made by women about women are doubly marginalized. But what makes Holofcener's work an anomaly above all else is its focus on women over the age of 40.

Holofcener doesn't shy away from the subject of Hollywood's ageism and internalized male gaze. She tackled the issue head on in her sketch for Inside Amy Schumer, "Last F**kable Day."

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Holofcener said that what makes the sketch fun is its biting accuracy.

"You can laugh at it, but I hope that people are shamed by it as well," Holofcener said. "That fellas that make the movies and cast the movies will feel, 'Oh... that's right.' Although I imagine they're sitting there in their room saying 'I wouldn't f--- her.' She's beautiful and she's sexy but I wouldn't f--- her. I mean those women are beautiful and sexy."

She said that casting her movies has been difficult because of that perception. In Holofcener's experience, executives have pushed for actresses much younger than those she had envisioned for a part.

"[Executives] say, 'Well she's not particularly sexy. What about somebody a little younger?'" Holofcener said. "The lists are generally younger women, and I want to work with people my age. People write for the part, but there have been times where they don't really say it, they'll just kind of be like, 'Well we like her, but what about blah, blah, blah."

File: Catherine Keener, Nicole Holofcener, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and Toni Collette at a press conference for the 2013 movie Enough Said.
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With so much media attention on #TimesUp and the underrepresentation of women in Hollywood, Holofcener doesn't want the world to forget that sexism is still very much alive and thriving -- both inside and outside of Hollywood.

"I think there's sexism and racism in every business, all over the world," Holofcener said. "And we're no exception. I do think about that for myself. OK, Roman Polanksi is 81 years old and he's making movies. Woody Allen is the same and he's making movies."

Bearing in mind the ageism she's faced in the casting department, Holofcener speculated on how the industry will accept her as she gets older.

"How many old, old women are making movies?" Holofcener asked. "There's very few of us. So I hope that I can survive this sexist business."

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Editor's note: A version of this story was also on the radio. Listen to it here on KPCC's The Frame.

Her latest effort: The Land of Steady Habits, which features a middle-aged man (played by Ben Mendelsohn) who recently left his wife and is estranged from his adult son. While the tone is darker than her older films, it follows the trend of depicting real, mid-life themes through a darkly comedic lens.

The Land of Steady Habits is financed and distributed by Netflix. Holofcener said that if it were up to her, the film would have made its debut in a theater. Unfortunately, the struggle to convince studios to air this kind of content means that isn't happening. The blessing in disguise: making the film without traditional studio backing allowed her to be uncompromising in her reality-driven storytelling.

"I wouldn't have chosen a streaming network if I could get a studio to release my movie in a theater," Holofcener said. "I mean it's shifted in so many ways. I don't know if I could've cast who I cast and made a story I made if I was relying on a regular studio to do it. It would probably last five minutes in a theater. So this is good. And I had complete freedom."

You can watch the Land of Steady Habits on Netflix now. It made its world debut at the Toronto International Film Festival earlier this month.

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