You’re watching a movie. It’s not great, but what really has you captured is the supporting actress. She’s doing a fine job, but your captivation was not caused by anything about her performance. Rather, it’s just that she looks incredibly familiar. You know you’ve seen her in another show, but you just can’t remember which one. It drives you insane.
When this happens, many of us grab our phone, go to Google, and type in the name of the movie usually followed by the word cast. From there, we usually will click on the first link. It’s that familiar, almost cheap-looking website with the black and yellow color scheme. Once again, you’re back on IMDb.com, scrolling through cast members’ names. You click on the right character, the link takes you to the webpage of the actress who plays her, and you look through a list of all the shows and films she has ever appeared in. Who knew that the actress who played Ida in Malcolm in the Middle also portrayed Gam Gam in Beerfest? What range!
The webpage that gave you all of this information will also include personal information about the actress, such as when and where she was born. It is this information that was the subject of AB-1687, a legislative bill that became law in 2016.
According to the California law, it was illegal for a site like IMDb from posting the age of actors and actresses. It was touted as a statute seeking to prevent age discrimination in entertainment industry.
The Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) argued that the law was needed because existing laws were not enough to eliminate age discrimination of older actors and actresses. United States District Court Judge Vince Chhabria responded to this argument, saying that the argument, “if successful, would enable states to forbid publication of virtually any fact.”
Judge Chhabria struck down the law as unconstitutional. The law was a “direct restriction on speech,” and therefore needed to be narrowly tailored to pass constitutional muster. It was not, the Judge ruled, because it was underinclusive by targeting IMDb.
In dicta, Judge Chhabria proclaimed that the law was misguided. According to the Judge, “the entertainment industry [does not] have a problem with older people per se.” Instead, the industry has an “insistence on objectifying women, overvaluing their looks while devaluing everything else.”
The ruling comes in the wake of sexual misconduct scandals that shook the country (whether or not it actually was a shock to Hollywood). Nevertheless, Judge Chhabria’s ruling is the right one. The law simply does not fit within constitutional boundaries. But although the legal arguments posed by the SAG-AFTRA fall flat, the underlying sentiment is cannot be ignored. The laws that exist, at least as they are being applied, are not protecting older actors, and to a higher degree, actresses. The legislature should keep taking hacks at enacting laws that address this issue. It may be worth the cost to the judicial system to keep hearing cases of whether such a statute is constitutional. Eventually, a law will be narrowly tailored and hopefully have the desired and needed effect of curbing discrimination.