Ageism at the Oscars?

by Jeff Weiss

It’s the middle of January and that means the Academy Awards are just around the corner.  While I must admit I am not a big fan of watching the awards show, I do love movies and try to see as many of the film nominees as I can before the big night. This year is no exception.

As usual, there is a lot of discussion around diversity, or the lack of it, among the Oscar nominees. Similarly, there is controversy around the nominee snubs – as noted in actress Issa Rae’s comment “Congratulations to those men” that overtly called out the Academy for not including any women in the Best Director category.

While sex and race discrimination remain an obvious issue in the film industry, one could argue that at least older actors are not being left out by screenwriters and when casting directors call for leading and supporting characters. At least that’s true for men when looking at this year’s nominations. Consider:

Photo: Antonio Banderas
Above: actor Antonio Banderas (59). Photo credit: Eugene Powers /
  • The average age of the nominees for Actor in a Leading Role is 51 with Antonio Banderas (59) and Jonathan Pryce (72) helping push up the average;
  • All five nominees for Actor in a Supporting Role are over 55 led by Anthony Hopkins at 82 and Al Pacino at 79 with an average age of 71 for this group of esteemed actors;
  • All five nominees for Actress in a Leading Role are younger with an average age of 37. Renee Zellweger (my pick to win) is the oldest of the bunch at 50 years of age;
  • The average age for Actress in a Supporting Role is 42 with those relative youngsters (Florence Pugh at 24 and Margot Robbie at 29) significantly pushing that number down. Kathy Bates (71) is the oldest and Lauren Dern (52) is just three years away from being an official Active Ager.

It is clear that Hollywood prefers its female characters to be younger than its men. No surprise there, especially as it is backed by years of research.

More interesting is to see movies targeting younger consumers (still the largest group of movie-goers) casting older characters in many of the leading and supporting roles, particularly in the action genre.  A few names that come to mind are Bruce Willis, Liam Neeson, Pierce Brosnan, Tom Cruise and Keanu Reeves (who just recently became an Active Ager).

On the female side, many of our greatest actresses are Active Agers including Meryl Streep, Michelle Pfeiffer, Frances McDormand and Jamie Lee Curtis.

With domestic box office revenue of approximately $11.4 billion in 2019 (the third highest in history), perhaps the film industry is better understanding and taking advantage of the star power of Active Aging actors and actresses.

Finally, for anyone interested, although I haven’t see all of the nominated movies yet, here are my picks for the top actor/actress awards (along with their age in brackets):

  • Actor in a Leading Role: Joaquin Phoenix (45)
  • Actress in a Leading Role: Renee Zellweger (50)
  • Actor in a Supporting Role: Joe Pesci (76)
  • Actress in a Supporting Role: Laura Dern (52)

If you’re watching, enjoy the show.  It will be interesting to watch the opportunities the film industry offers to Active Agers (women especially) over the next year.

Top photo: Featureflash Photo Agency /
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