News & Events

Defying Age In Hollywood Is Not Happening Anytime Soon

Wouldn’t it be better if we could stop the clock of time and bury “age” with all other unpleasant things?  As a teenager, I couldn’t wait to be a sophisticated twenty-something. Now if I tell people I’m a twenty-something, they laugh.  When did I get old?  Is my age really anyone’s business?  If I choose to be in a time warp (holding at 29), why should information on the Internet prove me wrong?

Age is a particularly sore subject in Hollywood.  On Sunday, Academy Awards host Jimmy Kimmel noted that “we are very welcoming to outsiders here in Hollywood.  We don’t discriminate against people based on what countries they come from – we discriminate against them based on their age and weight.”

Age discrimination is rampant in the entertainment industry.  The entertainment industry is  a youth-driven business, and being over 35 often limits roles and opportunities for actors.  But what’s the big hang-up on age?  If the actor looks and acts the part, why not cast that actor?   Imagine if you are casting a part and your eyes happen to glance over an actor’s DOB and you run the age calculation in your head, it’s unlikely that you will erase that indelible information from your mind.  It will be part of a calculation.

Recognizing that stars are timeless and their ages are irrelevant and that age discrimination poses a problem, California passed legislation (known as “AB 1687”) last fall requiring subscription entertainment databases (like the industry giant IMDb) to remove an actor’s age if requested by the actor.  The rationale for the law was that subscribers should have control over whether age and date of birth are posted on websites used for employment purposes.   Allowing actors to not divulge this information would help prevent age-based discriminations for those working in the entertainment industry.SAG-AFTRA, which represents over 160,000 working performers, lobbied hard for this law.  Their efforts were joined by California law makers, the Teamsters, the WGA, the Association of Talent Agents and even AARP, of which I’m a secret member.

SAG-AFTRA, which represents over 160,000 working performers, lobbied hard for this law.  Their efforts were joined by California law makers, the Teamsters, the WGA, the Association of Talent Agents and even AARP, of which I’m a secret member.

But the legislation had haters.  Opponents of the law contend that the removal of factually accurate age information suppresses free speech.  And these detractors didn’t stop with words; IMDb took it to court.  IMDb is Goliath in this fight.  Launched in 1996,  this online database (of which I subscribe) features 3 million movies and TV programs along with 6 million cast and crew members.  IMDb claims that 250 million visitors go the site each month.

A federal judge last week skewered the anti-age discrimination law with the First Amendment.  “[I]t’s difficult to imagine how AB 1687 could not violate the First Amendment.  The statute prevents IMDb from publishing factual information (information about the ages of people in the entertainment industry) on its website for public consumption.”  IMDb.com v. Becerra, Case No. 16-cv-06535, slip op at 1 (N.D. Cal.   Feb. 22, 2017) (Judge Vince Chhabria, who was born in 1969).   The court preliminary enjoined the enforcement of the law.   This litigation is “too young” to declare IMDb the victor.   I want to see what the evidence at trial shows.   It could be a show stopper.

 

by Anita Modak-Truran

Anita Modak-Truran