Can a New California Law Help Stop Ageism in Hollywood?

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Ageism is a prevalent problem in Hollywood, especially for actresses. Many, many actresses–Maggie Gyllenhaal, Patricia Arquette, Meryl Streep, Zoe Saldana, Sarah Silverman, Jane Fonda, Cate Blanchett, and others–have spoken out against sexism and ageism in Hollywood. But what if actresses were able to obscure their age on sites like IMDB? Would that give them a leg up when it comes to  landing parts? California just passed a law that would allow actors and actresses to remove their ages from their IMDB and similar professional entertainment pages, potentially putting that question to the test.

The text of the law, signed by Governor Jerry Brown, “will force subscription websites used by casting services and entertainment employers to remove age information in online profiles if asked.”

This comes after a lawsuit last year in which actress Junie Hoang sued IMDB for revealing her age. She claimed that her age being published hurt her career, and that IMDB breached her privacy by publicizing it. While she lost the lawsuit, it was certainly an interesting question, and opened up the conversation that this new law sort of stemmed from.

However, it’s not necessarily that simple. They Hollywood Reporter’s Jonathan Handel brought up the fact that the new law could violate First Amendment rights. First Amendment lawyer Floyd Abrams told the Hollywood Reporter:

The statute seems to me of the most dubious constitutionality. Birth dates are facts. It’s hard to see how the government, consistently with the First Amendment‎, can bar or punish their disclosure.

However Democratic Assembly Majority Leader Ian Calderon, who sponsored the bill, argued that it wasn’t censorship. He said:

Requiring websites to remove all age information from profiles would seem to run afoul of the First Amendment restrictions on the regulation of commercial speech. Limiting the bill to only subscribers makes it clear that the bill advances an important government interest — that of reducing age discrimination in a manner that is substantially related to that interest and no more extensive than necessary to achieve that interest.

Obviously this won’t make much of a difference for already established actresses, whose birthdays are quite easy to figure out. But it may make a difference for up-and-coming talent, or at least let actresses (and some actors) take the emphasis off their ages and let their work stand on its own. There’s still a lot of work to do to fight ageism in Hollywood, but maybe this will serve a tiny first step.

Anneliese Mahoney
Anneliese Mahoney is Managing Editor at Law Street and a Connecticut transplant to Washington D.C. She has a Bachelor’s degree in International Affairs from the George Washington University, and a passion for law, politics, and social issues. Contact Anneliese at amahoney@LawStreetMedia.com.



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