Actress and SAG-AFTRA president Gabrielle Carteris admitted in the Hollywood Reporter that she never would have been cast to play the role of 16-year-old Andrea Zuckerman on the hit TV show Beverly Hills 90210 if the people in charge had known she was really 29 years old.
Carteris said she lucked out only because electronic casting sites didn’t exist in 1990 when the TV show’s cast was being put together. Actors in this millennium are not as fortunate. Their ages and places of birth are available for everyone inside and outside the showbiz industry to see on website databases like the Internet Movie Database (IMDb).
“What worries me is that my fellow actors are not being afforded the same opportunities today — actors who are trying to make a living and find their big break,” Carteris wrote in a Hollywood Reporter op-ed. “They face blatant age discrimination every day as websites routinely used for casting talent — sites like IMDb and StudioSystem — force birthdates and ages on casting decision-makers without their even realizing it.”
When the calendar turns 2017, those days should be over in California. Actors and writers, everyone employed in the entertainment industry, will be able to erase their ages and places of birth from IMDb and other databases.
California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signed AB-1687 into law Sept. 24 after it won overwhelming support in the state Legislature. It takes effect Jan. 1 and applies to entertainment database sites that allow paid subscribers to post resumes, photo headshots or other information for prospective employers.
“Even though it is against both federal and state law, age discrimination persists in the entertainment industry,” Sen. Ian Calderon (D), the sponsor of AB-1687, said in a statement. “AB 1687 provides the necessary tools to remove age information from online profiles on employment referral websites to help prevent this type of discrimination.”
But opponents of the legislation said it is nothing but government-approved censorship.
The legislative route wasn’t the Screen Actors Guild’s first choice.
A Vietnamese-American actress, Huong Hoang (known professionally as Junie Hoang), filed suit against IMDb and its parent company, Amazon, for revealing her real birth date. She argued that opened her up to identity theft as well as age discrimination.
She filed suit in October 2011. The original suit was dismissed. Hoang appealed that decision to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in Seattle.
SAG-AFTRA and WGA West filed a joint amicus brief in support of Hoang in which the organizations made the argument that IMDb was used by just about everyone in the entertainment industry, especially the people responsible for casting movies and TV shows. And, because it was such a valued resource, publishing actors’ and writers’ ages opened the door to discrimination.
The amicus brief also argued that IMDb publication of ages and places of birth put those listed in the database in danger of identity theft. The brief cited a study that showed it is possible for identity thieves to predict the first five digits of a Social Security number from just two pieces of date. And the last four digits “can be obtained without much difficulty from public documents or commercial services,” the brief said.
The Ninth Circuit panel affirmed the original ruling that was for IMDb. But the Screen Actors Guild had laid out the foundation for the case its lobbyists would make to the California Legislature.
Sen. Calderon admitted the new law did “seem to run afoul of the First Amendment restrictions on the regulation of commercial speech.”
“(But) limiting the bill to only subscribers makes it clear that the bill advances an important government interest — that of reducing age discrimination in a manner that is substantially related to that interest and no more extensive than necessary to achieve that interest,” Calderon added in a statement to the Hollywood Reporter.
However, UC Irvine dean and constitutional scholar Erwin Chemerinsky argued “creating liability for the truthful reporting of lawfully obtained information is deeply problematic under the First Amendment.”
Floyd Abrams, a New York attorney who has presented cases before the U.S. Supreme Court on questions regarding First Amendment issues, told the Hollywood Reporter AB 1687 was “of the most dubious constitutionality.”
“Birth dates are facts,” he said. “It’s hard to see how the government, consistent with the First Amendment, can bar or punish their disclosure.”
Michael Beckerman, president and CEO of the Internet Association wrote in the Hollywood Reporter that AB-1687 would do nothing but suppress free speech.
“This is not a question of preventing salacious rumors; rather it is about the right to present basic facts that live in the public domain,” Beckman wrote. “Displaying such information isn’t a form of discrimination, and internet companies should not be punished for how people use public data.”
But Carteris echoed the SAG-AFTRA line about the new law not violating the First Amendment because it was so narrowly focused. What it will do, she maintained, is make it possible for actors, writers and others in showbiz to earn a living without the burden of their ages.
“I was allowed the opportunity to create a signature character on an iconic television show. That changed the trajectory of my life and career, and I am forever grateful,” Carteris wrote. “Enacting this law in California will benefit performers around the country and media consumers who want to see movie and television roles played by the very best people for the job.”