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If you grew up during the Golden Age of Hollywood, you may have developed a lifelong passion for film. But as time marches on, it may be harder to find a movie that interests you, much less to recognize the young actors who star in it.
Now that the days are getting shorter and the temperatures are getting cooler, it’s the perfect time to get into a COVID movie habit. October is National Movie Month, and thanks to classic DVDs and streaming services like Netflix, it’s possible to enjoy a golden oldie virtually anytime you want (along with the great performances of legendary actors and actresses like Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, Bette Davis and James Stewart). But if you’re looking for a movie you haven’t already seen, the pickings might feel slim—unless you’re a fan of bone-chilling suspense, Marvel Comics or films that feature characters young enough to be your grandchildren!
A recent study by the University of Southern California’s Media, Diversity and Social Change initiative found that only 12% of the 25 Best Picture nominees for 2014-2016 featured characters older than 60—and only three of them were integral to the plot. Worse, 40% of those characters were the butt of ageist comments.
It’s that lack of representation that spurred the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) to establish its Movies for Grownups Awards nearly 20 years ago. They recognize films featuring characters who are 50 or older and the actors who portray them.
Fortunately, the evidence of older people in film extends beyond the annual award-winners. Contemporary Hollywood seems to be getting the message that there’s a market for films that feature, even highlight, older performers—as well as plenty of terrific actors that fit that bill.
Ordinary Love, which had a limited release earlier this year, stars Liam Neeson, 68, and Lesley Manville, 64, as a long-married couple dealing with her breast cancer treatment. Book Club (2018) featured a cast of familiar actresses—Diane Keaton, Jane Fonda, Candice Bergman and Mary Steenburgen—who ranged in age from 67 to 83 and actors, including Richard Dreyfuss, aged 69 to 75. And last year’s Downtown Abbey film featured the estimable Dame Maggie Smith, 85.