How old is Jen? A new law will prevent you finding out. Photo: Richard ShotwellEntertainment industry websites that publish the ages of actors will be forced to stop the practice in the wake of new legislation in California intended to combat ageism in Hollywood. The law, which becomes effective on January 1, 2017, will force online databases that publish filmographies, resumes and actor headshots to remove an actor’s age if a formal request is made to do so.
The most obvious example is the online film and television resource Internet Movie Database – IMDB – which publishes agents, headshots and other biographical material. But the law would apply to any casting website that accepts payment for the posting of professional information. It also affects any individual who works in entertainment, though it is principally aimed at actors.
“Even though it is against both federal and state law, age discrimination persists in the entertainment industry,” California assemblyman Ian Calderon said. “[The law] provides the necessary tools to remove age information from online profiles on employment referral websites to help prevent this type of discrimination.”
Though the principle is essentially to protect actors from having casting directors discount them from roles on the basis of their age, the debate over the legislation has provoked fierce opinion on both sides.
Advocates of free speech and a free internet say the law is risky because in principle it advocates suppressing factual information on the internet.
“Requiring the removal of factually accurate age information across websites suppresses free speech,” internet freedom advocate Michael Beckerman said earlier this year. “This is not a question of preventing salacious rumours; rather it is about the right to present basic facts that live in the public domain.”
The law only affects paid casting websites, and requests for information to be taken down can only be made by a paying client of the site. That limitation may also insulate the legislation from a constitutional challenge on the grounds that it contravenes the First Amendment, which guarantees freedom of speech.
The California legislature also came up against the powerful Screen Actors Guild, which supported the law. “It is time to stop the ageism that permeates Hollywood’s casting process,” SAG president Gabrielle Carteris said earlier this year. “This problem exists for all performers, but most distinctly for women.”
Carteris is best known to television audiences as one of the stars of the 1990s drama Beverly Hills 90210.
SAG issued a statement thanking California’s governor Jerry Brown for signing the legislation into law on behalf of “everyone in the industry who has struggled with age discrimination”.
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