Following up on our previous post about inequality in the world of American film comes another study of bias on the silver screen, this time reflecting the neglected and distorted portrayal of folks of esnl’s own vintage.
Again, from the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism:
New research reveals few characters aged 60 and over are represented in film, and that prominent senior characters face demeaning or ageist references. These negative and stereotypical media portrayals do not reflect how seniors see themselves – or their lifestyles. These findings stem from two studies conducted by health and well-being company Humana Inc. and the Media, Diversity, & Social Change Initiative at USC Annenberg. The studies also reveal that aging Americans who are more optimistic report having better health.
Led by Professor Stacy L. Smith, USC Annenberg’s study analyzed the 100 top-grossing films from 2015 to assess the portrayal of characters aged 60 and over. Humana also conducted a quantitative analysis, asking seniors to identify the lifestyle traits that are important when aging, to assess the degree to which these traits describe them and to provide their point of view on senior representation in media. Major findings include:
In film, seniors are underrepresented, mischaracterized and demeaned by ageist language.
- The findings show just 11 percent of characters evaluated were aged 60 and over; U.S. Census data shows that 18.5 percent of the population is aged 60 and over.
- Out of 57 films that featured a leading or supporting senior character, 30 featured ageist comments – that’s more than half of the films. Quotes included characters being referred to as “a relic,” “a frail old woman” and “a senile old man.” According to Humana’s quantitative survey, seniors report they are highly aware (95 percent), resilient (91 percent) and physically active (71 percent).
- Only 29.1 percent of on-screen leading or supporting characters aged 60 or older engaged with technology, whereas 84 percent of aging Americans report that they use the internet weekly.
- Of the senior characters that died on screen, 79.2 percent of deaths were a result of physical violence — such as being shot, stabbed or crushed. This does not accurately reflect causes of death for the aging population, which are heart disease and other chronic illnesses.
But that’s not real life and seniors know it – people aged 60 and over lead active social lives and value internal, psychological strengths.