The Writers Guild of America West is demanding that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences expand its new best picture rules to include mandates against age discrimination.
In an open letter posted on the WGA West site, the guild’s Career Longevity Committee urged the Academy to revise the new rules, which were issued Sept. 8 to encourage equitable representation on and off screen in order to better reflect the diversity of the movie-going audience. Those included racial and ethnic groups, women, LGBTQ+ and people with cognitive or physical disabilities or who are deaf or hard of hearing.
“Conspicuously missing was any reference to age,” said the letter, written by committee chair Catherine Clinch. “For decades, members of the Writers Guild of America have lived under the burden of this painful reality – that older writers are the only diversity category that it is socially- acceptable to discriminate against. Hollywood has not even created the façade of pretending to include older writers in the workplace. Diversity programs sponsored by the Writers Guild have been able to find employment and representation for members of all other categories – except for older writers.”
Reps for the Academy did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
For the 94th and 95th Oscars ceremonies, scheduled for 2022 and 2023, a film will submit a confidential Academy Inclusion Standards form to be considered for best picture. Beginning in 2024, for the 96th Oscars, a film submitting for best picture will need to meet the inclusion thresholds by meeting two of the four standards.
Clinch asserted that the entertainment industry has been operating in violation of the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act: “Yet, this has become standard operational procedure in Hollywood. We are no longer willing to be silent co-dependents to the discriminatory practices in the entertainment industry. We demand inclusion and equity as our moral right. More important, we demand inclusion and equity as our legal right.”
She noted that in 2010, older television writers settled a class action suit against networks and talent agencies that had been filed in 2000. The settlement called for payment of $70 million to affected writers, who alleged they were victims of systematic age discrimination by talent agents who aided and abetted networks and studios by refusing to represent and refer older writers for work at the studios.
Clinch asserted that the settlement was “insignificant.” She added, “Older writers are shut out of the marketplace because of arbitrary metrics that can all be traced back to blatant discriminatory practices that are used against all protected class members.”
“Furthermore, when the industry references older writers, it is through the same language that has historically been used to defend racist hiring practices. Reasons for not hiring older writers include, but are not limited to: We don’t know how to find them; If they can’t get representation they must not be good; they’ve been out of work so long they don’t understand the current market; They won’t be able to keep up with everybody else; I hired one once and it didn’t work out; This show / movie is not about old people; They won’t fit the vibe in the room; I don’t want to hear how it was done in the old days.”
The letter was released on Wednesday. Clinch concluded the letter by noting the United Nations has designated Oct. 1 as the International Day of Older Persons — with no events in the U.S. to commemorate the celebration.
“However, the UN is using the International Day of Older Persons to usher in The Decade of Healthy Ageing (2020-2030) as ‘an opportunity to bring together governments, civil society, international agencies, professionals, academia, the media, and the private sector for ten years of concerted, catalytic and collaborative action to improve the lives of older people, their families, and the communities in which they live,” Clinch said. “It is time for Hollywood to do the same. It is time for Hollywood to make amends to older writers. It is time for Hollywood to comply with the law.”