Older people on screen are an “endangered species”, it has been suggested, according to a new report chronicling ageism in major Hollywood movies.
Research conducted by the Media, Diversity, & Social Change Initiative of the USC Annenberg School of Communications and Journalism, in conjunction with health insurance company Humana, concluded that not only are older characters (defined as 60 and above) underrepresented on screen, they are also subject to disproportionate levels of ridicule.
The study, called The Rare and the Ridiculed, examined the top 100 grossing films at the US box office in 2015 and found that 11% of the 4066 speaking parts identified were characters in the senior bracket (compared with 18.5% of actual over 60s, according to the US census).
The gender, ethnic and sexual orientation ratios of senior characters were even more dispiriting: about 72% were male and 82% were white. Only two characters in the whole sample identified as homosexual.
Helen Mirren has said ageism in Hollywood is ‘outrageous.’
Of the 100 films considered, 43 had no older characters in significant (leading or supporting) roles, and of the remaining 57, more than 50% contained a comment the researchers designated as ageist – ie, “a comment or nonverbal response to age or negative attributes typically associated with the ageing process or the life of a senior”.
The authors concluded that while “comments like those catalogued in this study may be intended to be humorous, the effects are anything but”.