Kathy Griffin, Lynn Whitfield Talk #OldLivesMatter at Ageism in Hollywood Panel
"I've been told my whole career, 'If you speak out about this, some 80-year-old guy who controls the studios is never gonna hire you and you're gonna be called a troublemaker,'" Griffin told THR.
"I'm 55, bitter and angry, and I don't see any reason to hold back anymore," comedian Kathy Griffin said to a small audience at the Ageism in Hollywood panel on Friday evening.
Griffin sat in The Screening Room at The London Hotel with fellow panelists such as actresses Lynn Whitfield and Lesley Ann Warren, director Michael Lindsay-Hogg and veteran publicist Harlan Boll, among others.
Multiple Emmy nominee Sharon Lawrence led the discussion, addressing a variety of ways individuals both in front of and behind the camera are discriminated against because of their age.
"Ageism determines the stories that are told," she said before introducing the panel. "It determines who's producing, who's writing, who's directing, who's acting, who's getting paid."
Griffin wasn't always eager to speak out about the issue, though.
"I've been told my whole career, 'If you speak out about this, some 80-year-old guy who controls the studios is never gonna hire you and you're gonna be called a troublemaker,'" she told The Hollywood Reporter.
She expanded on this during the panel: "I'm actually speaking up for the very first time — although I'm nervous. I'm actually nervous my agents are going to call, 'Oh, you're seen as a whiner' or something. Like if Matt Weiner called, I could be the new Don Draper."
While ageism affects both men and women, Griffin and other panel members agreed that discrimination is worse for women.
"You know, Adam Sandler doesn't have to worry about someone being like, 'You've done everything, what are you gonna do now?'" Griffin said. "When people say that to me, I'm like, 'I'm gonna keep working, what are you gonna do?'"
Lindsay-Hogg told THR he's been a victim of ageism, but that women have it particularly hard.
"In this country, there's a kind-of cutoff when people think you have to look a certain way until whatever age you are," he explained to THR. "Then you transition into not being desirable."
This idea of not being desirable often translates into non-sexualized roles, such as a mother or grandmother.
"When men age, their love interests get younger," Whitfield said. "It doesn't stop them from doing different genres of stuff. As women age in film, you know, they go from the woman in charge to the mother, the grandmother ... off a cliff somewhere."
In fact, Griffin said she often does many things for free just to garner face time. "My good pal Joan Rivers — if you saw A Piece of Work, that amazing documentary about her — she had to go on the f—ing Celebrity Apprentice for face time," Griffin said. "Luckily, that worked out well for her because she won, but who the f— wants to sit with Donald Trump when you’re, like, 75 and duke it out with challenges?"
Despite the maintained well-deserved criticism of the industry throughout the evening, Whitfield told THR that she tries to stay positive.
"It's like a haircut, right? You know, you get a haircut and you don't like it, so you've got to go through the whole pain of growing it out. And it's much better if I make a mental shift that I'm going to enjoy every phase of this, and see what I can do with it — as opposed to whining all the time. That, I think, takes the youth out of your spirit," she explained to THR.
Whitfield, like the rest of the panel, still desperately wants change.
"You know, it's [age discrimination] illegal in the state of California, thank god, so they have all kinds of ways where they don't come out and say, 'You're too old, Kathy, please go to a pasture now and be a cow. I'll come milk you later.' And I don't want to be put out to pasture. I happen to love my job," Griffin joked to THR.
Boll believes that change can come if first initiated by the media. He criticized publications for automatically including an individual's age as part of an attribution.
“Even media that’s supposed to be protecting age — AARP magazine, they’ve told me my clients were too old for their demographics," Boll said, recalling times he was told Bob Hope and Carol Channing were both too old for the publication.
The panel also condemned advertising agencies and consumer product companies for constantly trying to profit on the idea that aging is both unnatural and scary, with Lawrence in particular calling out Mark Zuckerberg for past assumptions he made that young people are smarter.