An actor's stock in trade--his or her product or "brand," if you will--is comprised of many things: native ability, technique, skill, experience, what some people call the "it factor' and others call charisma, and physical type and attributes. It's not breaking news that there's age discrimination in Hollywood ... and New York and London and Bangladesh. It's why so many wildly talented men and women (mostly women, let's face it) are pushed out of their lifelong vocation. They're simply deemed too old to be interesting anymore. Go ahead, scoff. We all know it's true; we see it every day.
This is a subtle, insidious, inequitable practice. Age discrimination, not unlike that based on race, gender, sexual preference or religion, is rooted in the belief that after a certain age (pick one) an actor or other professional is somehow inferior, less worthy, no longer "bankable." Really? Tell that to Helen Mirren, Judy Dench and Jane Fonda. Ellen Barkin. Lily effing Tomlin. Is there not room for men and women of all ages in our storytelling, just as there is in life?
If you're not a star, and if you're working every day to book the next role from the next audition, perception is everything. Say I look ten years younger than my actual age. I can play 40 when I'm 50, and 50 when I'm 60, believably and to the benefit of the script, the character and the viewing public.
But when a 25-year-old casting assistant sees on IMDb that I am, in fact, ten years older than my appearance would suggest, they'll most likely go on to the next candidate. The truth is that there are thousands of us vying for roles, and only so many minutes and hours in the day to fill them. The fact that I'm perfect for a role becomes secondary to the fact of my actual age. THIS is discrimination.
In spite of a new law that prohibits IMDb.com from displaying an actor's age if the actor doesn't want it posted--which was passed by the California legislature and signed by Jerry Brown back in September--IMDb is fighting back. Their logic? That the law doesn't address the root causes of age discrimination. Of course it doesn't! Nor does the law forcing southern states to allow their African-American citizenry to vote. Nor does the law making it legal for gay couples to marry. No anti-discrimination law addresses the root causes of prejudice, which are bigotry, fear and ignorance. But the law can make a start in changing perception, in creating a better climate for equality and common sense.
I'm glad our union has joined this fight. "SAG-AFTRA is in a unique position to defend the constitutionality of this law, because of its expertise concerning the phenomenon of rampant age discrimination in the entertainment industry that gave rise to its involvement as the sponsor of AB 1687 and to the passage of this legislation," states the actors' guild in court papers. Amen. Let's get this done.
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