Recasting Julia Sawalha In Chicken Run Is An Insult To Women

Before Chicken Run lands on Netflix this weekend, here's a reminder that Julia Sawalha has not been cast in its forthcoming sequel...


by Guy Pewsey |
Published on

Ageism is rife in Hollywood, we all know that. Look at the films in which twenty-year-old women play love interests to men legally allowed to apply for a bus pass. Or the essential removal of women above a certain age - bar a few exceptions - from the big screen. But we’ve really reached the nadir when a woman is deemed too old to provide the voice of a chicken.

Last year, actress Julia Sawalha posted a statement online explaining that she will not reprise her lead role as Ginger in the sequel to seminal stop motion animation Chicken Run, which is about to drop on Netflix. She says that she was informed, via her agent, that her voice is too old, and that she will be recast. She is, quite understandably, 'furious'.

'The reason they gave is that my voice now sounds "too old" and they want a younger actress to reprise the role,' she claims.

'Usually in these circumstances, an actress would be given the chance to do a voice test in order to determine the suitability of their pitch and tone, I, however, was not given this opportunity.' She adds that she sent her own voice tests, but was told the decision stood.

'To say I am devastated and furious would be an understatement. I feel totally powerless, something in all of this doesn’t quite ring true. I trust my instincts and they are waving red flags.

'I am saddened that I have lost the chance to work with Nick Park and Peter Lord from whom I learnt so much. The three of us, together, created Ginger.'

Replacing a lead character - and, we can assume from the statement, all of the original cast - on grounds that their voices are too old seems a pretty open-shut case of ageism, but aside from that it seems a cop out. Julia specifies that she took it upon herself to prove that her voice sounds much the same, and claims to have been successful in that. So what’s the real problem?

We are constantly expected to believe that old men are eligible, attractive bachelors in films. We can suspend our disbelief and watch Robert de Niro play a de-aged youth in The Irishman. We can allow ourselves to accept that Jack Nicholson isn't too old for Helen Hunt. That Margot Robbie isn't too young for Will Smith. That Tom Cruise would not have been retired from the IMF long ago. To suggest that audiences wouldn't be able to get on board with a middle-aged woman voicing a sprightly chicken is insulting to the audience, and to all women who fear that a grey hair and a wrinkle makes them less attractive, less eligible, less desirable, less hireable.

Perhaps they want a younger, more glamorous starlet, who will be more suited to the publicity parade of red carpets and cut show appearances. Perhaps they’ve found someone cheaper. Perhaps, they truly believe that Julia’s voice is no longer fit for purpose. But she is owed more. She deserves respect and gratitude for her part in Chicken Run’s success, not to be sent to the chopping block.

If a woman can be rejected for having a voice that sounds too old to realistically portray a plasticine chicken, what hope is there for everyone else?

READ MORE: What Is Cancel Culture? And Who Has Been Cancelled Now?

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