Tuesday January 10, 2017
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It’s no secret that age can be a career killer in Hollywood — especially if you’re a woman.
A new California law meant to combat age discrimination came into effect at the start of the year. It requires the popular industry website IMDb to remove birthdates from its profiles of actors. IMDb is refusing and has gone to court to fight the change.
Gabrielle Carteris is the president of the Screen Actors Guild. She also played a teenager in the ’90s hit show Beverly Hills 90210 when she was in her thirties. She spoke to As it Happens guest host Helen Mann from Los Angeles. Here is part of their conversation.
Helen Mann: Ms. Carteris, IMDb is doing everything it can to fight this change. Why is it so important to you that they comply?
Gabrielle Carteris: It’s important not just for me, but actually for everybody. The idea that we would support any kind of age discrimination, for me, is appalling. It’s important that everybody have an opportunity to be seen to their fullest potential without being judged by their age.
“When the  producers did find out my age, they said, “If we had known how old you are, we never would have brought you into the room.” – Gabrielle Carteris, president of the Screen Actors Guild and former cast member of Beverly Hills 90210
HM: You were cast as Andrea in 90210 in 1990 — that was long before IMDb, or the internet, as we know it, anyway, existed. Did the casting directors realize how old you were at the time?
GC: No. When I auditioned for 90210, at that time, I was 29 years old. I was auditioning for the role of a 16 year-old. And believe me, if they had known my age I never would have gotten the opportunity to walk in the room and audition for the character. In fact, I was told several years after 90210 started becoming successful — when the producers did find out my age, they said, “If we had known how old you are, we never would have brought you into the room.” And so I was being defined absolutely by my talent and ability at that time without any kind of judgment to my age. And that’s important.
HM: Most of us outside your industry look at IMDb for general information — about movies, about actors that we like, that sort of thing. But how is it used in the business? How do casting directors look at it?
GC: IMDb is used as a casting or hiring site. So when somebody’s being submitted for an audition, a casting director, or a producer, or a director, writer, might go look online because they want to see the credits or the body of work that the person has done. And what happens with IMDb is the first thing that comes up is the person’s age. So even when the people aren’t considering the age as an issue, they look and they go, “Oh, I didn’t know they were that old. I’m not going to bring them in for that.” Already you’ve cut off their opportunity to be able to come in and be seen.
“It’s not for the person who’s known already — for the celebrity. This is truly something that affects the working class actor.” – Gabrielle Carteris
HM: If I go on IMDb right now, I can see your birthdate. But I understand if an actor asks the site to take the information down, it’s supposed to comply. Have you made that request yourself?
GC: Yes, I think it’s been sent in already. For me it doesn’t matter though. People already know my age. It’s not for the person who’s known already — for the celebrity. This is truly something that affects the working class actor. This really affects the person who’s just looking to go in and be seen, so that they can have the possibility of being hired. Once you’re a celebrity, there’s millions of different ways to be able to discover somebody’s age. So it’s not about that. It’s not about limiting the internet, it’s not about ending freedom of speech. It’s about on specific sites like IMDb, where hiring is taking place, to be able to give people the opportunity to opt out — we made it very narrow this law — so that they can just have their work seen. And in every other business, it’s illegal to be asking people their age. But suddenly, here on a site that’s done for hiring purposes, because it looks like it’s Hollywood and it looks so glamorous, people don’t have an issue with it.
“There’s a difference between Google, and Wikipedia, and IMDB. IMDB is used for hiring. Therefore, it should abide by the law.” – Gabrielle Carteris
HM: As you know, the website is seeking an injunction to stop the enforcement of this law. It argues that this is unconstitutional because it restricts free speech. And they call it outright censorship. What’s your response?
GC: It’s not censorship. I disagree with them, as did California. And we have filed to intervene in support of California in the lawsuit, because we don’t feel in any way this is an infringement of freedom of speech. This is about trying to stop the blatant bias that takes place when these sites share ages. There’s a difference between Google, and Wikipedia, and IMDB. IMDB is used for hiring. Therefore, it should abide by the law.
HM: You and I are pretty much the same age. You just turned 56. What kind of roles are you and your contemporaries offered these days?
“I believe that people know what’s right, and they’ll stand up for what’s righteous. And I believe we’ll find it here in the United States. I believe in our system.” – Gabrielle Carteris
GC: It’s starting to change. [For] women — definitely of a certain age — it’s more challenging to find those roles. And I don’t actually look quite my age still. But it’s not just for me. When this law was first passed, when [California] Governor [Jerry] Brown signed it, I cannot tell you how many young men and women came to me, wrote to me — some of them cried — saying “Thank you so much, ’cause sometimes I can’t get into the room. I’m 25, auditioning for the role of a 17 year-old, and they won’t see me because they know my age.” So it’s not just women of a certain age. It’s men of a certain age. Whether you’re young, or whether you’re older, the truth is that there is an age bias that occurs. And we want to lift that.
Gabrielle Carteris as “Andrea” in ‘Beverly Hills 90210’
HM: But looking at the whole picture of Hollywood, ageism is entrenched — especially for women. How much hope do you have that you can actually change that culture?
GC: My hope is very high. Because it’s not just about Hollywood. Ageism and discrimination is in every business, in every career, around the world. This is not just something that occurs here in Hollywood. I believe that people know what’s right, and they’ll stand up for what’s righteous. We saw it happen with the Senate. We saw it happen with Governor Brown. And I believe we’ll find it here in the United States. I believe in our system.
For more on this story, listen to our full interview with Gabrielle Carteris.