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The perceived glitz and glamour of an actor’s life contrasts sharply with the working-class lifestyle of the average crewmember, but many of them have one thing in common, thanks to IMDb: age discrimination.
When the woman suing the database’s parent, Amazon, for disclosing her age was revealed Jan. 6 as actress Huong Hoang, many in Hollywood’s below-the-line community sympathized. As an agent repping crewmembers for more than 20 years, I can attest to their already limited work opportunities being further diminished by their ages appearing on IMDb.
I might be pitching someone with great credits — and the person on the phone will jump on IMDb while we’re talking and see the client’s age. Suddenly I have to justify how “young” they are: in spirit, in life. Now the client is being looked at differently and judged — intentionally or not — on something that, besides being illegal to ask about, has absolutely no bearing on his or her ability to be creative and collaborative with filmmakers of any age.
Each interview opportunity is precious, as there is only one director of photography, one production designer, one costume designer and usually one editor on any given project. Although many of these positions are filled by prior relationships, hundreds of people are submitted and about 75 strongly qualify for each job, I’m often told. Any negative information can be used to quickly whittle the pile to a select few.
In this age of ever-changing technology, an “older” DP, designer or editor can be judged as not being “right” for a project simply based on his or her age — the perception being that they are not well-versed or even interested in the hottest digital camera of the week or in sketching sets on their iPads. In reality, many of these experienced craftspeople have been itching for digital opportunities that would give them more creative choices, and they are now experts. But older candidates often are simply crossed off the list.
IMDb lists more than 4 million actors and crewmembers and features a “careers” button that not only gives cast and crew an opportunity to post photos, reels and résumés but also provides space for job openings and casting calls. That makes IMDb a quasi “employment agency,” seeking and attracting employers to view potential employees and providing job listings. Because the site is actively facilitating job-seeking, isn’t it in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, which protects individuals from discrimination based on age and applies to both employees and job applicants? The site supplies private birth-date information to potential employers who legally are prevented from requesting that very information from their job applicants.
As an agent, whenever I am asked how old a client is — and I am asked occasionally — we laugh together about how it isn’t legal to ask or answer that question, yet people expect an answer. So they go to IMDb, which is only too willing to aid and abet age discrimination.
Haeusler is a vp and agent at Innovative Artists who specializes in below-the-line talent.
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