Hollywood Diversity: The UntOLD Story

Birthdays never used to bother me.  I’d always say: “There are only two options…you either get old or you die young.” But I have a significant birthday coming up this year, one that lets me know that dying young is no longer an option…that I have crossed the threshold of “gone too soon” to “she lived a good life.”

And while I know my passing would be deeply mourned and I’d be dearly missed, I also know that henceforth my demise will be viewed on a sliding scale of “age appropriate.”  As a cancer survivor, that is not something I take lightly. So for the remainder of my sojourn on planet Earth, I plan on living “balls to the wall” and making the most of it. 

Unfortunately, Hollywood has put restrictions on that. 

As a young actress learning my craft and trying to figure this acting thing out, I worked all the time, including series regular roles in primetime and a pioneering role in daytime: as the daughter of Redd Foxx and Della Reese on the CBS sitcom, The Royal Family; three seasons opposite O.J. Simpson, as his wife on the HBO dramedy First & 10, and as “DiDi Bannister,” one of the first African American soap opera heroines, on ABC’s Edge of Night. Not braggin’ …just sayin’ I ain’t no slouch.

But now that I’ve gotten pretty good at this acting stuff, I can’t even get an under-five role on an off-brand cable network. And it irks me, because even though I’ve been a woman and black all my life, not even that prepared me for the discrimination I’m facing now as an OLD person.

And the irony of Hollywood’s latest diversity initiative – which seems to come back around every decade or so – is that while it embraces every color of the ethnicity, size, and gender identification rainbow, it ignores anything other than A-List gray, especially when it comes to women.  And gray is our common denominator.  Gay, straight, red, black, yellow, white, disabled, bi, trans…gray is what we will all be one day, if we’re lucky enough.

So why isn’t age more included in Hollywood’s conversation about diversity?  Why is “old” so often left out in the cold? Why isn’t age – and experience – revered? Why isn’t just getting to be old considered aspirational?  ‘Cause not everybody gets to get there, ya know?  So why aren’t more stories about older people being told and celebrated?

Additionally, casting older performers in tv and film is more than just a moral imperative…it’s good business. According to the 2017 U.S. Census, the 90.7 million Americans 55 and older accounted for 41.6% of all consumer spending.  Baby Boomers (aged 54-72) watched television 63% more than Millennials, and those 50+ made up 31% of all moviegoers over the age of 14 and went to the movies 2% more than the general population.

But Frances McDormand’s “inclusion rider” suggestion in her Best Actress acceptance speech at this year’s Academy Awards gives me new hope.  Hopefully, the shakers and movers of the entertainment industry will take heed.  But I'm not waiting' on 'em!

There's a vast audience that wants to be catered to NOW! That wants its stories told NOW!  And with my standup, my performance art character, "Ginger Peechee-Keane, Adult Sex-Ed Evangelist & Motivator," and my writing...I aim to please!!!

I also invite your comments and contributions as guest bloggers to make your voices heard..no longer huddling along the banks of the marginalized, but swimming in the mainstream.  Not "to' up from the flo' up," but vibrant, vital and viable women of ALL ages. 

Stay tuned!