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Oscar-Nominated Films Reflect Hollywood Ageism, New Study Reveals

Characters over the age of 59 are underrepresented in Best Picture nominees and among the top-performing films at the box office, a USC study found.

“Hell or High Water”

Hollywood has an ageism problem, according to a recent study from USC’s Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism. Among the 25 feature films nominated for the Best Picture Oscar during the past three years, less than 12 percent of characters who were named or had speaking roles were aged 60 or older, Variety reports.  The study looked at more than 1,250 characters from the 25 movies.

READ MORE: Female Filmmakers Are ‘Grossly Underrepresented’ When It Comes to Directing Opportunities, New Study Finds

Seniors comprise nearly 19 percent of the U.S. population, however, and almost 15 percent of ticket buyers. The underrepresentation of characters older than 59 among the Best Picture-nominated films echoes the findings of an earlier study from USC, which reported that in 2015, 11 percent of characters in the 100 highest-grossing films of the year were over the age of 59.

“It’s a missed opportunity for Hollywood,” Stacy Smith, one of the study’s authors, told Variety. “These are people with disposable income and time on their hands to view and stream and download films.”

Underrepresentation isn’t the only issue, however, as the study also found that seniors depicted in film are often the butt of jokes or are depicted as suffering from various ailments. Of the 14 films that included a senior as a lead or supporting character, six were found to have ageist comments. In “Hell or High Water,” for example, Gil Birmingham’s character of Alberto Parker says to Jeff Bridges’ Marcus Hamilton,“Are you interested in hearing about these robberies or are you just gonna sit there and let the Alzheimer’s run its course?”

READ MORE: Film Industry Still Struggling With Massive Age Gap Both Behind and In Front of Camera, New Study Reveals

“When we think about diversity, we often talk about including the usual suspects of race, gender, sexual orientation, people with disabilities, but age is often left out of the conversation,” Smith said.

Among the 148 senior characters in film nominated for best picture, 78 percent percent were men and 90 percent were white.

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