Entertainment and Media Discrimination and Denigration of the Elderly

Why She Was Killed off “Animal Kingdom”

By Entertainment and Media Discrimination and Denigration of the ElderlyNo Comments

I wrote the other day that Ellen Barkin was killed off her TNT series, “Animal Kingdom,” after four seasons. At the same time, she left her talent agency, CAA, and BFF Bryan Lourd, after 12 years.

Some fans speculated that Ellen wanted out. Let me tell you, no actor really wants off a TV series. If they leave, it’s usually because of a failed negotiation, i.e. money. But Barkin is loaded, so that wasn’t the reason. It wasn’t her decision, clearly, to have Smurf shoot herself in the head.

So what was it? A fan with few Twitter followers wrote in and asked Barkin a simple question: WHY? She answered succinctly: “65-year-old woman.”


Ellen Barkin, kids, is hot. She doesn’t look like a “65 year old woman.” But she’s made her point. And even though “Animal Kingdom” the movie was centered on a mother who rules her unruly brood of gangster sons, the series will now go on with just young people. How crappy is that? My guess is that without Barkin, the bottom drops out of whatever ratings they had.

But will outspoken Barkin speak about ageism and what happened to her? Or she is bound by an NDA? I sure hope not. I’ve never known Ellen to be anything but forthright on every subject. Stay tuned…

After 10 Years, Age-Bias Suit Ends in Changed Hollywood

By Entertainment and Media Discrimination and Denigration of the ElderlyNo Comments

LOS ANGELES — People here rarely bother to hide the way that Hollywood covets youth. Film and television stars regularly brag about their latest plastic surgery procedures, and even the people who toil behind the cameras have been known to lie about their age to secure work.

So the $70 million settlement last week of a class-action age discrimination lawsuit brought by 165 television writers would appear to provide some solace to those who have long contended that they have been ignored by television studios, producers and agents merely because they are, to put it bluntly, old.

But a deeper look at the settlement and its terms indicates that the defendants might not be giving up all that much, and that anyone who is expecting the floodgates to open with opportunities for older writers is likely to be disappointed. In addition, there are some indications that, in the almost 10 years since court action commenced, changes have come to Hollywood that appear to have made the bias against older writers less pervasive.

“The best way to look at the settlement is through a fairly narrow lens,” said David R. Ginsburg, the executive director of the entertainment and media law and policy program at the School of Law of the University of California, Los Angeles. He noted that the statements of the targets of the lawsuit that they were settling the case merely as a business matter and their contention that they were not admitting any discriminatory acts “are not the sounds of a chastened defendant.”

Among the two dozen defendants were the major broadcast television networks and their affiliated production studios as well as several major talent agencies, which the writers said refused to represent them in the quest to get work. Together, the defendants agreed to a $70 million settlement, but about two-thirds of that will be paid by insurance carriers. That means that no network, studio or agency will itself be on the hook for more than about $1 million — less than the average cost of a single half-hour of television production.

Subtracting the roughly 40 percent of the $70 million that will go for lawyers’ fees and other expenses leaves $43 million for the plaintiffs. About $2.5 million of that will go to create the Fund for the Future, which will issue grants and loans to affected writers “to further their writing careers and study ways to supplement their pensions and improve access to medical insurance,” according to the settlement terms.

While that leaves about $245,000 for each of the named plaintiffs, few if any will get that much, because the payouts will depend on how many people apply for and are granted membership in the class of affected writers. Even a quarter of a million dollars is not much when spread over 10 years, the time the lawsuit has been pending.

Still, headlines are often what stick in people’s memories, and $70 million “is big enough that it may attract attention,” said Martin L. Levine, a professor of law and gerontology at the University of Southern California. “The threat of having to pay money is a strong talking point, so if some people around the entertainment industry remind executives from time to time of the settlement, that might change some behavior.”

Some behavior might already have changed. Research conducted for the Writers Guild of America, West, some of which was cited by the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, has found that since the suit was filed the percentage of employed television writers under the age of 31 has fallen by about one-third, to 6.2 percent of the total in 2007, from 9.8 percent in 1999.

Over the same stretch the percentage of television writers over 50 grew by about 10 percent, to 21.5 percent in 2007 from 19.3 percent in 1999.

Some of that change might have been caused by the age-discrimination lawsuit. But those trends also seem to mirror shifts in television viewing patterns: Audiences have aged, and many of the most-watched programs on television are police and medical dramas that target audiences in their 40s and 50s. At the same time scores of new cable outlets have targeted specific demographic sectors, perhaps providing additional employment for writers attuned to those groups.

Tony Segall, general counsel for the Writers Guild, West, which was not a party to the lawsuit, said that his organization remained concerned about the longevity of writers’ careers and the employment rate among older writers. “There is still a sharp decline in employment rates as writers get older, into their 60s and 70s,” he said.

There is also anecdotal evidence that things have changed in Hollywood.

In 1998, a couple of years before the writers first brought their age-discrimination suit, Riley Weston, a 32-year-old writer and actor, made headlines when she posed as a 19-year-old and was offered a three-year contract to write shows dealing with teenagers. “In a business fraught with age bias, I did what I felt I had to do to succeed,” Ms. Riley said at the time. When her hoax was discovered, her multiyear writing deal fell apart. This year one of the hottest television writers in Hollywood is Frank Pierson, who is 84. He won an Oscar in 1975 for his original screenplay for “Dog Day Afternoon” and was nominated in December for a Writers Guild award as part of the writing team for the drama series “Mad Men.” And he recently was hired as a writing consultant on the first season of the CBS drama “The Good Wife.”

Over-40 actors still fighting the ageism that stymied Judy Garland

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In 1962, Judy Garland received an Oscar nomination for her role in Judgment at Nuremberg and regarded it as an auspicious restart for her career. She had been thrown into the deep end of Hollywood’s unforgiving waters as a child actor, and since her early success, every aspect of her life had been marred by desperate attempts to keep her head above water. Unsuccessful marriages to other struggling artists, an addiction to drugs that was spurred on by abusive producers and, above all, her constant anxiety to control her appearance – all these problems were symptoms of her toxic relationship with Hollywood. “Isn’t this pretty good for somebody Hollywood thought as too old, too fat and too undependable to offer a job?” she wroteJudy, the new film starring Renée Zellweger, recounts the sad ending that she was heading for instead.

Judy joins the list of Hollywood biopics that carry an air of atonement, in which the misfortunes of earlier generations of stars who were cast away from the industry – largely due to their age – are memorialised and sentimentalised. Films such as The Artist and Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool have an admirable goal: celebrating the lives of performers who were callously underappreciated toward the end of their careers. But it is becoming more and more difficult to take away a positive message when Hollywood itself draws attention to how much Hollywood hasn’t changed.

The star of Judy is herself re-emerging from a hiatus: one that was caused by the same maladies afflicting old Hollywood that the movie depicts. Zellweger retreated from acting after she entered Hollywood’s dead zone for women aged 40 or over. She borrows from a familiar sense of disenchantment with the profession when she tries to give life to Garland’s emotional state at the end of her life. In interviews for the movie, Zellweger says she is ready for the roles that will embody her maturity. Whether the studios have the same plans remains to be seen.


Some big-screen veterans still attract an enthusiastic audience. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, starring Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, and Bill Nighy, which explored the lives of retired Brits living in an Indian hotel, exceeded expectations by grossing more than $130m worldwide. Book Club put the same trust in the box-office power of older American actors, including Jane Fonda, Diane Keaton and Candice Bergen. Both movies secured sequels and softened the industry’s attitude towards taking risks with older actors.

But for every hard-earned movie project that serves the age demographic well by telling a complicated story about old age, Hollywood churns out two Schwarzenegger movies with tag lines like, “Retirement is for sissies”. There are obviously Hollywood pitch meetings reserved for the older male action stars of the 80s. Twelve of the 15 highest-grossing movies of that decade have been remade, and most of them are produced to mask the age of their stars. Rambo 5, Terminator 6, Die Hard 5, Indiana Jones 5 and now the second Top Gun, all ride the new American myth of super-agers.

To pull this off, Hollywood encourages bizarre anti-ageing clinics even as it abandons the female stars of the 80s, pairing their former male co-stars with much younger on-screen love interests. And now the industry has added a new weapon to its digital arsenal: de-ageing technology. Advocates believe that VFX technology could help ameliorate the representation problem. But it’s more likely that de-ageing technology help Hollywood avoid the problem of finding roles for older stars by erasing signs of age as opposed to embracing them.

In the past, small- to mid-budget projects have been the most welcoming to older stars. Many darlings of the screen who hit their peak in the 1940s, 50s and the 60s bid their adieu delivering memorable performances in this subgenre. Among them were Katharine Hepburn and Henry Fonda playing ageing parents in On Golden Pond, John Wayne as an out-of-time gunslinger in The Shootist, and Julie Christie as a woman struggling with memory loss in Away from Her. More recent examples – Robert Redford in The Old Man and the Gun and Clint Eastwood in The Mule – underwhelmed artistically and commercially.

Perhaps Marlon Brando was the most accurate predictor of the future. Toward the end of his career, he had come to terms with Hollywood’s commodification of youth and vitality. He sought the help of early adopters of VFX technology to create an animated 3D version of his face, believing that the studios would, after his death, want to keep a young Brando alive on the screen. “Maybe this is the swan song for all of us,” he said, even though it’s not real and “inside a computer”. Today, Hollywood’s fascination with de-ageing technology seems to affirm Brando’s bleak premonition, as it continues to insist older actors surrender to its obsession with youth.

Aging Americans Snubbed in Best Picture Films

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Studies from Humana, USC Annenberg’s Professor Stacy L. Smith highlight ongoing prevalence of ageism in film, perceptions of real-life seniors 

New research finds that characters aged 60 and over continue to be under and misrepresented in Hollywood’s most critically acclaimed films. Findings were uncovered through an ongoing partnership between health and well-being company Humana Inc. (NYSE: HUM) and the Media, Diversity, & Social Change Initiative at USC Annenberg. A separate but growing body of evidence exploring ageism suggests there are consequences to stereotypes of aging Americans—including potential negative health impacts.

Led by Professor Stacy L. Smith, USC’s study analyzed 1,256 speaking or named characters in the 25 Academy Award for Best Picture-nominated films in 2014, 2015, and 2016, to assess the portrayal of characters aged 60 and over. In tandem, Humana analyzed its own quantitative survey data on the attributes considered most important for aging Americans. One theme that emerged from the Humana data was the perceived importance of feeling optimistic, valued or recognized. If seniors aren’t accurately portrayed onscreen, might it impact their well-being in real life?

A deeper analysis of the findings shows:

Even in the most critically acclaimed films, aging characters are underrepresented and stereotypically portrayed.

  • Of 1,256 characters evaluated, only 148 (11.8 percent) were 60 years of age or older – despite representing 18.5 percent of the U.S. population, according to the 2010 U.S. Census.[1]
  • Six of the 14 films that featured a leading or supporting aging character contained ageist comments. Examples of these comments include “mentally feeble, sick old ladies” and “…just sit here and let Alzheimer’s run its course” – revealing that even critically acclaimed films misrepresent what it means to be a senior citizen.

There are inherent consequences to these stereotyped portrayals of aging Americans – including not feeling valued as a member of society and a potentially negative impact on health.

  • Humana’s quantitative survey segmented seniors aged 60 and over by those who feel most valued, which was defined as being positively recognized and appreciated by family, friends and society.
  • Those seniors who felt least valued reported more than twice as many physically unhealthy days and more than three times as many mentally unhealthy days per month as their “most valued” counterparts.
  • Regardless of their health, most seniors agreed that film industry portrayals of their age group were inaccurate.

“The outcry over the lack of diversity at Hollywood’s premier award show has failed to recognize the value of senior voices on screen,” said Smith, director of the Media, Diversity & Social Change Initiative at USC Annenberg. “While 2016 best picture nominated films are more diverse when it comes to gender and some racial and ethnic groups, ageism is still an accepted form of exclusion in cinematic storytelling.”

Dr. Yolangel Hernandez Suarez, vice president and chief medical officer of care delivery at Humana, shared her own thoughts on the subject. “Clearly, there’s more work to be done before we can say precisely how inaccurate media portrayals impact self-image in seniors, from their sense of being valued to their sense of optimism, but what really concerns me as a physician is how a diminished sense of self-worth can, in turn, impact a senior’s health,” said Suarez. “In our survey, we showed that aging Americans who report feeling more valued in society tend to have more healthy days. At Humana, we believe aging with optimism contributes to health, and that’s why we’re committed to reversing societal perceptions and promoting aging with optimism.”

Key findings surrounding both studies will be showcased at “Over Sixty, Underestimated: A Look at Aging on the ‘Silver’ Screen in Best Picture-Nominated Films”, a discussion at the University of Southern California on Feb. 16.  The event, which will be livestreamed at, will feature both Suarez and Smith joined by Dr. Caroline Cicero professor at USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology, and Gary Lucchesi, president of the Producers Guild of America and president of Lakeshore Entertainment.

For the full report, please click here.

About the Humana Quantitative Analysis

This survey includes 2,035 responses from U.S. adults aged 60 and older. Data weights are based on U.S. Census statistics for age, gender, geographic region, and race/ethnicity. It was conducted between Aug. 4- 21, 2016, and was designed to assess perceptions of the importance of various traits, characteristics or attributes of people as they age, then to have respondents rate themselves against the same attributes. Other data collected include general self-assessment of health, activity levels and perception of aging in popular culture. The survey also incorporated “Healthy Days,” a four-question survey developed and validated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It asks people how they perceive their recent health and how many days over the previous month they felt physically or mentally unwell.

About the USC Film Study

The Media, Diversity, & Social Change Initiative analyzed every speaking or named character in 25 films released in 2014, 2015, and 2016 and nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture. Every speaking character was evaluated across a variety of measures (e.g., gender, race/ethnicity, LGBT status, and age). Characters that were 60 years of age or older on screen were identified (n=148) and a qualitative analysis related to health and occupation was performed for these characters. A further set of measures were used to qualitatively evaluate the portrayal of leading and supporting senior characters across the sample.

About Humana

Humana Inc., headquartered in Louisville, Kentucky, is a leading health and well-being company focused on making it easy for people to achieve their best health with clinical excellence through coordinated care. The company’s strategy integrates care delivery, the member experience, and clinical and consumer insights to encourage engagement, behavior change, proactive clinical outreach and wellness for the millions of people we serve across the country.

More information regarding Humana is available to investors via the Investor Relations page of the company’s web site at, including copies of:

  • Annual reports to stockholders
  • Securities and Exchange Commission filings
  • Most recent investor conference presentations
  • Quarterly earnings news releases
  • Calendar of events
  • Corporate Governance information

About USC Annenberg Media, Diversity, & Social Change Initiative

The Media Diversity & Social Change Initiative (MDSCI) at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism is a leading think tank studying diversity in entertainment through original and sponsored research. MDSCI findings create valuable and sought after research based solutions that advance equality in entertainment. Dr. Stacy L. Smith is the Founder and Director of the MDSCI.  Dr. Smith and the MDSCI examine gender, race/ethnicity, LGBT, and disability on screen and gender and race/ethnicity behind the camera in cinematic content as well as barriers and opportunities facing women and people of color in the entertainment industry. The MDSCI also conducts economic analyses related to diversity and the financial performance of films.  In 2015, Dr. Smith was named the #1 Most Influential Person in Los Angeles by LA Weekly. Dr. Smith has written more than 100 journal articles, book chapters, and reports on content patterns and effects of the media.  In terms of the popular press, Dr. Smith’s research has been written about in The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, The Atlantic, Newsweek, The Hollywood Reporter, Variety, and NPR. She has a co-edited essay in Maria Shriver’s book, A Woman’s Nation Changes Everything (2009). Dr. Smith and the MDSCI’s most recent research reports include an analysis of 800 top-grossing films, the Comprehensive Annenberg Report on Diversity in Entertainment (CARD) and a series of landmark studies with Sundance Institute and Women in Film Los Angeles.  To learn more, visit or follow on Twitter @MDSCInitiative.

About the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism
Located in Los Angeles at the University of Southern California, the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism is a national leader in education and scholarship in the fields of communication, journalism, public diplomacy and public relations. With an enrollment of more than 2,200 students, USC Annenberg offers doctoral, graduate and undergraduate degree programs, as well as continuing development programs for working professionals, across a broad scope of academic inquiry. The school’s comprehensive curriculum emphasizes the core skills of leadership, innovation, service and entrepreneurship and draws upon the resources of a networked university in a global urban environment. Based at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism in the heart of Los Angeles, the USC Center for Public Relations (CPR) is truly at the center of one of the world’s most dynamic professions. Our mission is to connect corporations, agencies, academics and students to define the future of our industry and to develop those who will shape it.

Researchers, Writers And Actors Highlight And Tackle Ageism In Hollywood

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Over the last five years, Hollywood actors have become increasingly verbal about ageism in the industry, in some cases joining forces to address disparities and increase opportunities for older adults. Reports from the University of Southern California’s Annenberg’s Inclusion Initiative have highlighted the prevalence and portrayal of characters age 60 and above. Partnering with Humana in 2016, the Initiative continues to unveil the fact that seniors are not only underrepresented on screen but also misrepresented.

In a 2018 report, Still Rare, Still Ridiculed: Portrayals of Senior Characters On Screen in Popular Films from 2015 and 2016, researchers led by Stacy L. Smith found little had changed between 2015 and 2016 with respect to the depiction of seniors in popular films the researchers examined.

With respect to ageist comments, the trend continues and investigators caution that the implications may extend beyond laughs and into the health space. Like the prevalence of tobacco use in film and television, negative age-related stereotypes may fuel more medical consequences than anyone might have initially predicted.

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“These results are in line with our previous research on films from 2015, Academy Award-nominated movies, and even popular television series. Across these studies, it is clear that ageism is an acceptable aspect of story-telling. However, for senior viewers, these comments may have adverse effects. Priming of negative age-related stereotypes among seniors has been linked to unfavorable health outcomes such as cardiovascular reactions and memory activities.18 Though writers may intend to poke fun at aging by comically exaggerating stereotypes of older characters, the effects may not be funny at all.” (Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, Smith et al, 2018).

Ageist comments by older celebrities, even when self-directed and humorous, can also contribute to this negative line of thinking. Whether these comments are propelled by discomfort, akin to the school kid who makes fun of himself before anyone else can, the fact of the matter is that every time the big or small screen captures a stigmatizing comment about aging, it is like everything else, magnified for the masses to consume and digest.

As the 92nd Academy Awards approach, trends appear to continue with older actors standing a better chance of being recognized for a supporting role than a leading one. Actor in a leading role nominees included only one actor 60 or older (Jonathan Pryce, 72). Actor in a supporting role included 4 of 5 nominees (Tom Hanks, 63, Joe Pesci, 76, Al Pacino, 79, and Anthony Hopkins, 82). For women, the trend was similar and worse, with no nominees age 60 and above for actress in a leading role and only one nominee (Kathy Bates, 71) for actress in a supporting role.

Women have been become some of the most visible players in changing the ageist narrative, including Oscar winners Meryl Streep, 70 and Nicole Kidman, 52 who have taken on a different kind of role in their affiliation with The Writers Lab. Launched in 2015, and founded by Kyle Stokes and co-founders Elizabeth Kaiden and Nitza Wilon, The Writers Lab is a screenwriting lab for women writers over 40. Supported by Streep and Kidman, The Writers Lab 2020 is produced by New York Women in Film & Television with co-founders Kaiden and Wilon. Its mission is to increase the number of stories written by female storytellers over the age of 40, not demand female-driven storylines:

“The Writers Lab is dedicated to developing narrative feature screenplays written by women over the age of 40. We feel it is critical to nurture the voices of mature women that have not been heard and are in danger of being lost entirely. We look forward to a new landscape where the female narrative is in equal proportion to the male narrative, and where shared stories strengthen our ties to one another and empower younger generations.

We are committed to female storytellers, yet we do not limit our search to stories about women. The Writers Lab seeks well crafted scripts, in all genres, exploring universal themes, using a full range of cinematic tools.”

The 2020 Writers Lab Contest registration opened this month and runs through March 2020. Winners will participate in an intensive workshop with accomplished female screenwriters and mentors.

Nicole Kidman emphasizes the need to acknowledge the power and viability of mature women storytellers in her 2018 SAG Awards acceptance speech.