THAT WHITE GOLD: Why We Can't Get Enough of Michelle Pfeiffer

Victoria Villamil

There is an illness that has been going round the block for the past few years. In recent months, it’s become more or less a poisonous plague and affects almost anyone it touches. It is called “Pfeifferism” and if you look it up on the internets, you’ll immediately come across this brief explanation:

“For those who aren’t in the know, Pfeifferism is a religious practice that entails worshipping the Almighty White Fox, Michelle Pfeiffer.”

If you think this is just nonsensical millennial rubbish, you’re wrong. Pfeifferism is real. While the exact start date of this phenomena is difficult to pinpoint, many modern-day Pfeiffer fanatics say it started in 2013, when Vance Joy name-dropped Pfeiffer in his song “Riptide” with the line, "I swear she's destined for the screen. Closest thing to Michelle Pfeiffer that you've ever seen.” In 2015, Bruno Mars included her in his number one hit “Uptown Funk” belting out, “that ice cold Michelle Pfeiffer, that white gold.”

No small feat.  

While Michelle’s position as a high caliber actress is well documented in films like Scarface (1983) and The Fabulous Baker Boys (1989), her emerging status as a pop star muse and modern icon might come across as a bit random. Yet this year alone, she’s played Ruth Madoff in HBO’s lauded The Wizard of Lies,  a very creepy houseguest in Darren Aronofsky’s  Mother!, and a mysterious widow in Kenneth Branagh’s adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express. Vanity Fair recently stated that her “Hollywood comeback had only just begun”, The New York Times cooed just how much ““Michelle Pfeiffer has been missed”, and Vogue boldly announced that Michelle is having a “Prada Moment” declaring, “It’s official. 2017 has been the year of Michelle Pfeiffer.”

I’ll be honest; I, too, am sitting on the front seat of the Michelle Pfeiffer love train. She has the elusive “it” and, as Tim Gunn would say, makes it work. She consistently chooses to portray complicated characters who are vulnerable and volatile and I love her for that. Her fun array of women like Susie Diamond and Selina Kyle are pretty, problematic, foxy, and flawed. She plays all of them with gusto, including supporting roles like Elvira Hancock who probably wasn’t intended to steal the scenes in Scarface. Yet the Pfeifferism phenomena is a separate movement all on its own, in part due to a growing reference for veteran actors who persist in an industry rife with age discrimination. For me, Pfeifferism lauds not only Michelle, but most respected actresses over 50 who aren’t Meryl Streep. It is worth noting that Michelle’s had no hand in the spread of Pfeifferism. While she’s not intensely private, she’s never been in our faces about her celebrity, her politics, her charities, her adopted child, or her feminism. Perhaps that explains why Pfeiffer and other similar figures of her genre are gaining popularity. In a time of social media narcissism and Hollywood altruism, audiences need an onscreen example of someone who is, as my mother says, “sencilla”, which translated to English means “simple” but which really means “straightforward” or “transparent”. Pfeifferism encompases all that; an acknowledgement of a great talent and of someone who’s not faking it.

Unfortunately, Michelle Pfeiffer’s cool personality may sometimes be overlooked in favour of her psychique. Some fans, when speaking about her, will immediately point to her beauty which, I admit, is difficult to ignore. In 1990, People named Michelle the most beautiful person in the world, the first person to be named so. Recently, Vogue happily declared that she has “barely aged a day” and that, at 59 years, “she’s got the same ash-blonde hair, piercing blue eyes and porcelain skin.” But Pfeiffer is much more than a “Fabulous at Fifty!” catchphrase. Garry Marshall, who directed Pfeiffer and Al Pacino in one of my absolute fav romantic films Frankie and Johnny, admitted, “You know, she was hired originally in this town as a beautiful girl... But she works incredibly hard -- the body language, the hair, the voice.” Director Darron Aronofsky, who worked with her in Mother!, even pleaded, “Can we finally acknowledge that she is both, the most beautiful and the most incredible actress?”

Truth be told, Michelle’s physical appeal voices a rather uncomfortable question. Does she have a newfound fan base because she’s remained, in the eyes of modern media, beautiful? Ageism in Hollywood is big on people's minds these days, thanks in part to conversations surrounding systemic practices like sexual harassment and equal pay. And yet sadly the industry continues to stamp female film artists with expiration dates, especially if they “let themselves go.”(Does anyone remember magazines penning love letters to Renee Zellweger when she stepped back into the limelight? I don’t.) The same kind of scrutiny does not apply to men, however, with The Washington Post pointing out that among actors over 40, males get over 80% of leading roles. It’s got so bad that even the flawless Nicole Kidman scrambles to find work, making a point to address the vapid culture of female ageism at the 2017 Emmys. Despite this, women still account for the majority of moviegoers and many, like Pfeifferite Elizabeth Olsen, profess admiration for talent, not youth. The monetary success of films like Hidden Figures and shows like Grace and Frankie and Veep prove this. Audiences want to see all types of women on screen. Pfeifferism, in a way, embraces moviegoers’ growing admiration for actors of a previous genre like Winona Ryder and Ashley Judd. When speaking of Pfeiffer, The Huffington Post even urged, “For the next order of business: Someone cast her in a movie with Annette Bening.” But although many audiences laud actresses of every age, producers don’t. And no one professed it better than Cate Blanchett when she dissed Hollywood executives at the Oscars exclaiming, “The world is round people!” Yes and it’s time to sit and spin.

Since countless women in Hollywood face obstacles, many understandably get vocal. Stars like Lena Dunham frequently slam institutionalized beauty standards and Beyonce passionately cries out over equal pay. While I agree with them, Pfeiffer’s approach, thoughtful and gentle, is far more tasteful. Unfortunately, many public figures blur the lines between speaking truths about contemporary matters and relishing in their own splendour and self-absorption. This does them no favours and they lose credibility when they flaunt in front of a camera how they’re ‘all that.’ In contrast, there is a soft elegance in how Michelle addresses issues that matter to her, like the environment, free of selfie tweets and Facebook rants. I admire her for not only who she is but who she is not. Regarding the pay gap in Hollywood, she makes sure to check her privilege stating, "On the one hand, yes, maybe it is chauvinism. But let's be realistic. I see homeless people every day in my neighborhood. So I can hardly complain even though there is sexism in the industry." Michelle is also open about her insecurities and does not tout her own horn, admitting, “ I didn’t go to Juillard. I’ve always had this feeling that one day they’re going to find out that I’m really a fraud, that I really don't know what I’m doing.” It’s calming to read and feels deeply relatable and real. The Pfeifferism parade isn’t just about her professional talent but about her attitude and overall demeanor. Is Michelle like this because she hails from a time when social media didn’t propagate our lives? Maybe. But I pray more people consider her behaviour; we won’t properly advance as a society if self-worship reigns King.

The 1980s are experiencing a pop culture renaissance of late and some will likely think that the splurge of love for Pfeiffer is part of that. Michelle herself admitted, “There seems to be a lot of me out there at the moment.” But I don’t think Pfeifferism is a momentary fad. The true beauty of Michelle is that she reminds us to admire women for their talents, not their looks. She reminds us that females of all ages deserve a spotlight. And she reminds us that celebrity figures have a responsibility to be humble and poised. In short, Michelle is magnificent. She may have just returned to the silver screen, yeah, but she’s never once stopped being gold.

Michelle, Killing it in a yellow dress in 1983

Michelle, Killing it in a yellow dress in 1983

Michelle, Killing it in yellow dress in 2017

Michelle, Killing it in yellow dress in 2017