Women reach their “expiration date” at 35 in Hollywood, said “Sex and the City” star, Kim Cattrell, in an ABC interview with Robin Roberts. Cattrell also said that “We think of aging as something like a disease.” She may not be wrong.
When Olivia Wilde was 28, she was turned down for a role in the “Wolf of Wall Street” as the girlfriend of Leonardo DiCaprio (then 39 years old) because she was “too old” according to an interview Wilde gave on The Howard Stern Show.
Researchers studying the earnings of Hollywood’s top movie stars found that the average earning per film of male stars reach a maximum at age 51 and remain stable. In comparison, according to a study published in the Journal of Management Inquiry, the average earnings of female movie stars increase until the age of 34 but decrease rapidly thereafter.
Now consider this, women over 35 make up 54 percent of the female and 27.6 percent of the total U.S. population according to the 2010 census. Is it any wonder that actresses are careful not to advertise their real age?
As one agent advised, “What do you do if a casting director asks your age? The answer is simple: Lie.”
Unfortunately for actresses over 35 (and actors over 51), lying doesn’t solve the problem. Why? IMDb.
IMDb is the world’s most popular and authoritative source for movie, TV and celebrity content. It offers a searchable database of more than 185 million data items including 3.5 million movies, TV and entertainment programs and 7 million cast and crew members, according to its website.
All a casting director has to do is check IMDb for an actress’ real age. Now what?
File a law suit.
In October 2011, Jane Doe filed a complaint against IMDb claiming that it revealed her actual birth date as July 16, 1971. The complaint alleged that "In the entertainment industry, youth is king” and that “If one is perceived to be ‘over-the-hill,’ i.e. approaching 40, it is nearly impossible for an up-and-coming actress, such as the plaintiff, to get work.” IMDb’s actions have caused a “double whammy,” since because she is seen as “over the hill,” Plaintiff cannot get roles playing younger women, and because she looks so much younger than she actually is, she “cannot physically portray the role of a forty-year-old woman,” causing a substantial decrease in her earnings.
The Screen Actors Guild and AFTRA promptly responded with a press release deploring the age discrimination facilitated by IMDb.com. “An actor’s actual age is irrelevant to casting. What matters is the age range that an actor can portray…. That reality has been upended by the development of IMDb as an industry standard used in casting offices across America,” according to SAG’s press release.
In her first amended complaint, Jane Doe was unveiled as Huong “Junie” Hoang, a Vietnamese-American actress who had small parts in films such as “Gingerdead Man 3: Saturday Night Cleaver,” and “My Big Fat Hip Hop Family” as well as guest roles on the television series “I Didn’t Know I Was Pregnant” (apparently a “documentary” series where she is billed as “Triage Nurse”).
The District Court granted partial summary judgment in favor of IMDb in March 2013 and in April 2013, a federal jury in Seattle rejected the remaining claim against IMDb. In March 2015, the Ninth Circuit unanimously affirmed the decision in favor of IMDb.
Hoang’s date of birth is currently listed on IMDb as July 16, 1971, the correct date.
This post originally appeared on abovethelaw.com.
Jon Pfeiffer is an experienced entertainment and copyright trial attorney practicing in Santa Monica. Jon is also an adjunct professor at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California where he teaches Media Law. COM 570 covers First Amendment issues as well as copyright, defamation and privacy.