Hollywood has been under the microscope for its lack of diversity for years — not only in race and gender but also age.
A study out of the University of Southern California looked at more than 1,200 characters in films released between 2014 and 2017 and found that people age 60 and older appeared in 12% of films yet they represent 19% of the U.S. population.
Amy Baer has a problem with that. To change how the industry represents older people, the 54-year-old film and TV producer is launching Landline Pictures, a Beverly Hills production company aimed at making movies for the over-50 crowd.
The majority of people making decisions behind the cameras are over 50, Baer says, and movies that portray older people are successful at the box office. But these films are overshadowed by the industry’s focus on chasing younger audiences and making four-quadrant movies, projects that appeal to the four major demographics of moviegoers.
“There is a real opportunity to capitalize on an audience that has the disposable resources, time, income, and also is habituated to really go to the movies,” she says, “to tell stories about their lives.”
This disconnect around advertising segments in Hollywood goes back decades, she says.
“You are literally leaving money on the table when you're not making movies for a more diverse audience,” she says.
One successful show in production that centers around older people is Netflix’s “Grace and Frankie” starring Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin. Netflix shows often only last between two to four seasons, Baer points out, but “Grace and Frankie” is going on season seven.
“That absolutely speaks to the fact that they have a very steady and robust audience for that show,” she says.
These types of stories succeed from a financial standpoint because they tackle “very big, universal life themes” such as starting over, adventures and second chances, she says.
“Grace and Frankie” is about two older women whose husbands fall in love and leave them — but “everyone relates to starting over” whether it’s graduating high school or getting married, she says.
The momentum behind audiences wanting to see diverse characters on screen is forcing Hollywood to consider how to portray a fuller reflection of humanity, Baer says.
“That diversity isn't just skin color, it isn't just sexual orientation, but it's also age. And Hollywood has a horrendous history of ageism,” she says. “So I think that as an industry, we are finally coming to terms with the fact that we have to tell stories for and about everyone.”
This segment aired on April 16, 2021.