Ageism is alive and well in Hollywood. Is it harming seniors' health?
Could casting decisions in Hollywood be shortening our lifespans?
It may seem like a provocative thought, but it's not as far-fetched as you think.
When you look at the 25 films nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars over the past three years, less than 12% of the characters in them were 60 years or older — with very few being women or minorities — according to a new study from Stacy L. Smith, director of the Media, Diversity, and Social Change initiative at the University of Southern California Annenberg.
What’s more, few of those characters played roles pivotal to the plot, and many were misrepresented or created with ageist stereotypes in mind, Smith found.
This is a problem with ramifications felt far outside Hollywood.
Past studies suggest stereotypes about aging can have devastating effects on older people.
Research out of Australia's Charles Sturt University in 2015 found negative stereotyping about growing older — that it will bring about loneliness and frailty, for example — influences how older people see themselves and their peers. This, in turn, can effect a variety of other important factors relating to how a senior's life unfolds: how fast they recover from illness, their overall mental health and well-being — even how long they live.
When Hollywood does nothing to counter these stereotypes — and, in many cases, exacerbates the problem — it can cause harm off-screen.
"If I don't see myself in the movies, what does that say about me?" Yogi Hernandez Suarez told NPR. She's a chief medical officer at health insurance provider Humana, which funded the USC study. "Am I not a valued person? Should I be preparing for a future, or will I just sort of disappear at a certain time?"
Media representation isn't just a matter of political correctness — it's a matter of bettering lives.
Thanks to the hard work of activists and increasingly discontented moviegoers, the 2017 Academy Awards on Feb. 26, 2017, are more racially diverse than they've been in years. Films like "Moonlight" and "Hidden Figures" — and the artists who brought those projects to life — have snagged much-deserved nods, bringing stories centered around the experiences of people of color, women, and the LGBTQ community into the mainstream. To audiences around the globe, that's made a difference.
In the same vein, it's crucial the stories we see on big and small screens include complex older characters living rich lives and adding value to the narratives which they're part of — not used as tropes or glorified extras.
After all, our grandparents are watching. They deserve better.