SAG-AFTRA's Gabrielle Carteris: Actors Need a Law to Keep Ages Off IMDb (Guest Column)

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It's "blatant discrimination," writes the union president and former 'Beverly Hills, 90210' star, who is pushing for a new law requiring casting websites to remove birthdays.

It is time to stop the ageism that permeates Hollywood's casting process. This problem exists for all performers, but most distinctly for women. Performers create characters and often employ illusion to do so. That's acting.

My role on Beverly Hills, 90210 could not have happened for me today, plain and simple. I would never have been called to audition for the part of 16-year-old Andrea Zuckerman if they had known I was 29. Electronic casting sites did not exist in 1990; today, they are prevalent and influential. And they affect casting decisions even when casting personnel don't recognize their unconscious bias.

What worries me is that my fellow actors are not being afforded the same opportunities today — actors who are trying to make a living and find their big break. They face blatant age discrimination every day as websites routinely used for casting talent — sites like IMDb and StudioSystem — force birthdates and ages on casting decision-makers without their even realizing it. SAG-AFTRA wants to end that now. California's AB 1687 would help put a stop to the rampant misuse of personal information and ensure legal, fair hiring practices when employers use online casting and data services. Authored by Assembly member Ian Calderon, AB 1687 — which will require websites to take down birthdates when requested by a performer who subscribes to the site — has passed through both houses of the state legislature by an overwhelming majority. The final stop is California Gov. Jerry Brown's desk. I am extremely proud to have shared my experience on this critical issue with the California Senate Judiciary committee in June.

Many actors have endured age discrimination of some sort throughout their careers. Those isolated, individual cases have now morphed into the almost-automatic age discrimination made possible by the online casting services. The information is put front and center before those making the decisions about whom to audition and whom to hire. Casting personnel practically can't avoid seeing it, even if they try. Opponents of AB 1687 say it could have a chilling effect on free speech. This is highly doubtful as the bill seeks a narrowly tailored fix that applies only to subscription-based entertainment websites.

To join SAG-AFTRA and thousands of entertainment industry workers in fighting to stop this kind of discrimination, contact Gov. Brown with your personal stories. I was allowed the opportunity to create a signature character on an iconic television show. That changed the trajectory of my life and career, and I am forever grateful. Enacting this law in California will benefit performers around the country and media consumers who want to see movie and television roles played by the very best people for the job.

Carteris is president of the SAG-AFTRA union.

This story first appeared in the Sept. 9 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

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