The Oscars have been rightly lambasted for failures in race and gender representation, but, microcosm of the industry that they are, it also seems to have an age problem. That conclusion comes from a new study done by USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism that found that only two main characters over 60 appeared in the 25 films nominated for Oscars over the past three years. And things are even grimmer if you’re not Michael Keaton, as he played them both.
The findings, which naturally uncover even slimmer odds of representation for older people of color and older women specifically, do come with one major caveat. Rather than taking into account the age of the actor in question, the study uses the age of the character. That means that cases like Denzel Washington’s nominated performance for Fences doesn’t count because although Washington is 61, the character he plays is 53. J.K. Simmons in Whiplash, Tom Hanks in Bridge of Spies, and Kevin Costner in Hidden Figures were all knocked out on similar technicalities. And while that stipulation means that older actors may have a somewhat better shot at recognition than the study would otherwise foretell, the numbers are still disheartening, largely because of their implications about the ageism at play in what stories get awards attention. Per the report, “only 22.3% of senior characters in these acclaimed films were female,” no LGBT senior characters appeared, and the statistics for seniors of color are similarly dismal. The study is far from a smoking gun, but it does make clear that there’s work to be done.