I had another column topic all laid out, outlined, ready to dive in, and then the posts kept coming, the emails kept coming, the social conversations at industry events kept turning toward the only thing folks seem to want to discuss lately: The IMDb Birthdate Lawsuit.
Oh, wait. I was going to delay the bottom line about my feelings on this issue, and first come at it in a very compassionate, caring, “I hear you” sort of way.
Yeah. That ain’t gonna happen.
Let me back up. Let me actually lay the groundwork with the supportive stuff like, “Hey, if an issue is important to you, it’s important to you. And I’m not gonna pooh-pooh what you hold dear. Even if I think it’s completely ridiculous.” Yep. That’s as supportive as I’m gonna get, here. (Ooh, and don’t get me started on my opinion about unions that scramble to pull together talks and press blitzes about this issue when they should be working on their merger plan.)
Before you fire off an angry email at six paragraphs in to this week’s column, let me state for the record that I absolutely, positively understand and appreciate some folks’ concern over identity theft and the bad things that can happen if too much identifying information about a person is made public and easily accessible. Totally. But whenever I see folks freak the eff out about such things as Spokeo and the evils of what info Facebook shares, I want to remind them that — most of the time — almost everything out there was put out there by the person doing the complaining. That they have a problem with the fact that it gets aggregated by a site they’ve never visited? They should take that up with the TOS to which they agreed when offering up all sorts of private info at sites they do visit, sure the “friends only” box is checked (and means what they think it means, in terms of the site’s ability to use, sell, and publish the info. Ooh! The lawsuit I can’t wait to see? The one in which an actor loses a commercial because of a conflict that exists due to having clicked LIKE at Facebook. “No Coca-Cola endorsement deal for you, dear. Your face has been given away, in perpetuity, to Pepsi, thanks to the TOS you never even read.” THAT one? I’m excited to see).
One of the major issues in the IMDb birthdate lawsuit that is intriguing to me — assuming the accusation is true — is that the actor’s birthdate was added to her acting profile by IMDb staff members after the information was provided by her in an attempt to upgrade her account to IMDb-Pro membership. If that’s the case, that’s pretty shitty, but I don’t know — if I wanted my age protected — if I would ever provide my birthdate to a company that offered a field for date of birth among a list of various, optional fields (because certainly, birthdate isn’t a required field for IMDb-Pro membership).
But, since the overwhelming majority of impassioned outcries I’m seeing from actors — posting or emailing things like “Please! Sign the petition to get our birthdates off IMDb,” and, “Stop age discrimination among actors,” and, “We’re losing jobs, thanks to IMDb’s policies!” — are about the age issue (not about potential identity theft or whether their date of birth may have been obtained under the guise of account completion and then used for other purposes), that’s what makes me yawn about this whole issue.
Because actors are NOT losing jobs due to their actual age. It’s just a reason that’s being used when the actor was never gonna land the job anyway.
Here’s how I knew I had something to say on this topic, even though I’ve tried really hard to avoid the topic altogether (because people are just so dang emotionally charged about it all, and I find logic doesn’t often intersect emotionally-charged topics easily): I was being interviewed by a reporter for E! and The Los Angeles Times for a piece on actors coming out as gay and the impact this announcement can have on their careers.
During the interview, I said that producers and casting directors will use anything as the “reason” an actor didn’t get cast because it stops the conversation, and that’s all they want to do, at that point. So, it’ll be, “We didn’t cast you because you’re not in SAG,” when they know the actor can’t go get SAG instantly, thereby removing the reason they didn’t get cast. It’ll be, “We can’t cast your client because he’s openly gay and this role is a romantic lead,” because it’s a non-negotiable, not because it’s true. Likewise, it’ll be, “You didn’t get the role because you’re 35 and we need audiences to believe you’re 28,” not because the actor can’t make viewers believe she’s 28 but because producers have already decided she’s a NO, and they want to stop the negotiation process, the bargaining, the, “Oh, I can change my hair color,” or, “I can get Botox,” or, “I can stand on an apple box” shit that goes on, and just move on.
When I said all of this in our interview, I referenced the IMDb birthdate lawsuit and the reporter had a major lightbulb moment, realizing that so many actors obsess about things that aren’t really the reason they didn’t get cast, because it feels better for them to rail against some injustice than it does for them to accept that the role just wasn’t theirs, and move on.
Of course. No one wants to believe the role wasn’t theirs. They would rather believe someone is keeping them from it. Someone is blocking them. God forbid it just not be theirs, this time! So, when there’s a chance to unite against a common enemy? Folks love that. And, of course, that’s how revolutions are born. I’m not saying roll over if you feel passionate about something! I’d never tell you not to fight for something you truly believe in. Certainly! Speak up, speak out, be heard.
But then you need to move on. Keep working. Do the things that are — in this business and in life — within your control. Holding bitterness toward a perceived injustice is a far bigger “casting repellant” than a birthdate.
Of course, it’s really easy for me to say I don’t understand the drama about anyone’s age being listed. I haven’t been attempting an acting career for over a decade. But for me, it was never a big deal to have my age out there. I just don’t worry about that stuff. I also don’t worry about a lot of things that are out of my control. And it’s fascinating to me when people ignore things they can fix in favor of fixating on things that are outside of their control. Fascinating and strange.
In nearly nine years of casting, I have never once NOT cast someone because of his or her age (outside of children, where child labor laws dictate a certain birthdate gives us more time with the actors, on set). Producers and casting directors want the actors they want, period. And we’ll make it work. We’ll use as the “reason” someone wasn’t cast whatever will get us off the phone and back to work on closing the deal of the actor we did cast.
I really want that to be clear. Age is used as a reason for a NO the same reason ethnicity, gender, height, SAG status, weight, sexual orientation, or geographical location is used for a NO. It’s a “stopper.” You can’t fix it with a twitch of the nose. And, honey, if you were going to be given a chance to fix it, the reason you would have been given for the NO would’ve been a fixable one.
Think back to our friend the writer for Felicity, who was fired for having lied about her age. That was a function of PR spin. She had embarrassed the network, the production company, the showrunner, by getting one over on them. But had they wanted to keep her on more than they had wanted to serve her up as an example of what happens to people who lie to “the system,” they would’ve found a way to keep her on, rather than making her a casualty of publicity.
But for every example that makes you scream, “See! It’s true! There IS age discrimination,” I can point at a hundred examples of actors who are 45 being cast as grandparents in commercials, because the ad execs wanna feel like — as they push 60 — they are as young-looking as that healthy 45-year-old “grandpa.” There will be a 27-year-old actor playing a girl in high school. There will be an actor who gets cast way outside his or her age range whose age is discovered after the fact and if they really really couldn’t bear the thought of having someone over 40 on their call sheet, they’d fire her. But you bet your ass they’d come up with any other reason she was being fired. Because AGE is NEVER the reason.
Ask anyone who works in Corporate America. The second it’s clear there’s someone on payroll who will be fired soon, collecting any data that helps build a case about why that person was fired (in case there’s a lawsuit) becomes a priority. No one will ever be told the real reasons why. Because the real reasons aren’t relevant. That’s how I know that actors being told they’re not getting cast because of their actual age are being lied to. You don’t want to know the real reason, so you’re provided one that is just a “stopper” to the whole conversation.
So what? You want to rage against the machine. Cool. I get it. And I’ve long expressed my opinion that actors need to channel a tenth of the energy they spend bitching about IMDb “revealing their age” on anything more productive in their career and they’ll see success sooner and be happier. But whatever. It’s a choice.
So, as I round out this week’s highly-opinionated column, I’ll suggest that every moment you spend focused on something you don’t like, you are celebrating its poison.
Sure, sign the petition. But stop pushing others to do so — thereby telling them that you feel limited, you feel that you’re not getting all the work that you could, you feel pushed down by the industry you say you love enough to spend your life pursuing.
Stop debating the fairness of it all in front of others, thereby celebrating its power over you. Sign the petition and move on. Create work for yourself. Show the buyers how to cast you. Celebrate that there is plenty of work out there for everyone, and that you can have some of it, just by building relationships, lowering the perceived risk in casting you, and understanding that the reasons that are often given when you’re not cast are not truth. They’re complete and utter bullshit reasons that are designed to stop the conversation. By celebrating those lies, you celebrate poison rather than embracing success that is absolutely available to you. No matter how old you are. Or who knows it.
Originally published by Actors Access at http://more.showfax.com/columns/avoice/archives/001416.html. Please support the many wonderful resources provided by the Breakdown Services family. This posting is the author’s personal archive.