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Women In Film Presents An All Star Line Up to Discuss Ageism In The Arts


Over the years, American activists have tackled many challenges including women's rights, civil rights, gay rights and even animal rights, and yet an issue that all American's will eventually face goes unchecked and unchallenged ... Senior rights. Ageism runs rampant, especially in the entertainment industry.

On Friday night, a panel of 8 industry leaders including Ashton Applewhite, B. Harlan Boll, JoBeth Williams, Lesley Ann Warren, Kathy Griffin, Michael Lindsay-Hogg and Lynn Whitfield with moderator Sharon Lawrence, were brought together before an audience at the London Hotel by producers David C. Barry and Robyn Rosenfeld with the support of Women in Film for a panel on Gender Diversity and Ageism in Hollywood.

The number of seniors in the U.S. has become a larger and increasing more influential market every year, while advertisers are pursuing millenials, using younger and younger models and actors to misrepresent and hock their products, even those products designed for senior shoppers. Panelist, Lesley Ann Warren, remarked that this practice isnt new, that as a young professional, her first commercial was for Geritol. Products created for an older market, are being presented by individuals that will not have use of them for years to come. In addition, the audience they are pursuing with such fervor, doesn't have the same spending power as those individuals of middle age or maturer generation.

Among the the topics of frustration under debate, is the media's insistence on reporting the age of their subjects, "I hate that," declares Lesley Ann Warren. The consensus is that it is an invasion of privacy that generally has nothing to do with the purpose of the interview. It is suggested by comedienne, Kathy Griffin, that the reporters should have to declare their own age in their byline. Award winning director, Michael Lindsay-Hogg and Lynn Whitfield admit that they are here more to learn than to offer personal experiences, and perhaps help develope or inspire a course of action that can be taken by U.S. citizens. Best selling author, Ashton Applewhite, offered several sources during the discussion.

Publicist, Harlan Boll, most of whose clients are defined as either icons or legends, a distinction that comes with age, mentioned that many of his colleagues fiercely protect their real ages as it can falsely define their ability as a performer. Boll claims that his happiest clients are those that embrace their age. Claiming that colleagues such as Charlotte Rae and Carol Channing refuse to allow publications to airbrushed their photos, claiming they have earned their lines and each one only enhances the character(s) they may be playing. He admits this does not stop them from taking care of themselves and doing what is necessary to stay the effects of age, but accepting the reality frees them in many ways. "Carol Channing says that she loves telling an audience her age, because it is a guaranteed ovation," says Boll. After the evening's discussion ended, Mr. Boll relayed an additional observation saying, "A few years ago I was working on an all star staged reading of "Sunset Boulevard," based on the original screenplay by Billy Wilder at the Pantages Theater. The first actress cast in the lead role of Norma Desmond, backed out for fear of being seen as elderly. We were lucky enough to secure the talents of Anjelica Huston, who later admitted that she almost declined the role, thinking she wasn't old enough, but then realized she was the same age as Gloria Swanson who portrayed the role in the Paramount Pictures release." Boll recalled, "I realized that history was repeating itself, as the original production experienced the same phenomena. When the first two women to be cast in the role (Mae West and Mary Pickford) would eventually change their minds for fear of being stereotyped as old, it was Gloria Swanson who, embracing her age, accepted the role and was rewarded with an Academy Award nomination. American's love their older characters ... Elaine Stritch in "Monster-In-Law," Katharine Hepburn and Henry Fonda in "On Golden Pond," Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda in "Grace and Frankie," Sir Ian McKellen in anything and Betty White in everything, the list goes on. Until advertisers and the media accept this fact and stop force feeding their audiences images of unrealistic youth and its supposed superiority, the public will continue to blindly accept the subliminal message that youth is good and age is bad. The bottom line is that the media is responsible for ageism and the prejudice that the industry has developed on the subject."

Aggressively proactive actors and actresses are embracing new media, such as webisodes, as a means to connect with the younger audiences, despite the fact that it means a far less profitable financial arrangement. While some in the evenings gathering felt that depictions and views of mature individuals are slowly getting better, everyone was in agreement that they are not happening nearly fast enough to suit them.

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