Stephens College teamed up with SeriesFest to give middle-aged women in screenwriting an opportunity to tell their stories
It’s never too late to get schooled.
A new scholarship for women over 55 is now available to students enrolled in the M.F.A. program for television and screenwriting at Stephens College, the Columbia, M.O university announced Wednesday.
The second oldest women’s university in the country teamed up with SeriesFest, an annual Denver-based television awards festival, to give out its first-ever $5,000 Jan Marino Scholarship, named for the late “Eighty-Eight Steps to September” author. Her daughter, Betsy Marino-Leighton, created the academic prize in her honor.
“My mom was a writer who didn’t start her career until she was 56,” Marino-Leighton, a Stephens College student enrolled in the program, told Moneyish. “To see someone’s career launch at that age was really inspiring for me, and I just want to make sure that other women have the opportunity.”
The scholarship nurtures the power of strong, independent female storytelling in television and film at any age. The program is mentor-based, so the faculty running the courses is made up entirely of working writers, including some of the most successful television and screenwriters in Hollywood. The course was designed to appeal specifically to those who are mid-career and have families, Marino-Leighton explained. Students meet for 10 days of intensive writing workshops twice a year, and work one-on-one with mentors online throughout the semester to provide a more flexible schedule. The application deadline is April 13, and this year’s winner will be announced at SeriesFest in June.
“It’s important because it is engaging a whole new set of voices,” Marino Leighton said. “It’s holding up a giant billboard saying, ‘Fifty-five and over — here’s your shot!’ Not only are you able to do it; we’re inviting you to do it.”
Stephens College is the latest institution to give middle-aged women a more inclusive and creative outlet to continue advancing their careers. In 2015, Meryl Streep funded a screenwriters collective for female filmmakers over 40 called Writers Lab run by New York Women in Film and Television and IRIS, a collective of women in film. She brought in big names like “Legally Blonde” writer Kristen Smith, “Boyhood” producer Caroline Kaplan and “Bring It On” writer Jessica Bendinger to lead the charge.
Having a platform for older women to write and share stories is more necessary than ever, Marino-Leighton said.
“You’re hearing all the stories from the #MeToo movement that have happened to women over 55. Aside from being sexualized in ways we don’t want, or domestic abuse, there’s this profound ability to deal with loss and understand perspective [at this age] that’s richer than what someone in their 20s might have to share,” Marino-Leighton said.
And there are more meaningful roles in Hollywood now that are addressing the struggles that women over 40 are grappling with every day. Earlier this year, “Big Little Lies” star Nicole Kidman — who won the Screen Actors Guild Award for her portrayal of Celeste, a 40-plus mom trying to escape an abusive marriage — praised the entertainment industry for finally accepting and embracing women her age, and celebrating their stories on screen.
“There’s that old thought that once you pass the age of 30 you either play the mother or the old crotchety lady, and I think there’s a lot of women breaking that stereotype, and breaking boundaries — it’s not just Meryl Streep. You look at women like Helen Mirren who are in their late 60s and 70s who are sexy in their own right,” Alison Greenberg Millice, an Oscar-winning film producer and Chief Strategic Officer at SeriesFest, told Moneyish. “The industry is recognizing this, but I’m not sure that’s (being) met behind the scenes for women having the opportunity to be in the writer’s room and be behind the scenes. That was one of the things we wanted to support and see this change.”
Outside of TV and film, other companies have made an effort to destigmatize ageism in the workplace. In 2014, global bank Barclays expanded its apprenticeship program to look for candidates over 50, because their life experience helps them relate to loan applicants better.
And more middle-aged workers are contributing to the labor force than ever before. Twenty years ago, less than one third of people age 55 and over were employed or looking for work; today, that share is now 40%, according to the St. Louis Federal Reserve.
Marino-Leighton added that more freedom of expression, professionally or personally, also comes with age.
“The older I get, the more I have to say,” she said.
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