A federal judge has put a stay on enforcement of a 2016 California law aimed at preventing Hollywood casting directors from seeing subscribers’ ages on entertainment databases like IMDb and StudioSystem. The stay will remain until IMDb’s suit against the state is resolved.
California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law AB-1687 in September, requiring entertainment databases to scrub paying subscribers’ dates of birth and ages from their profiles upon their request. The legislation was met with optimism by the Screen Actors Guild—the principal union for screen actors—which saw it as a step to eliminating age discrimination in the entertainment industry.
But others saw AB-1687 as an infringement on free speech. Almost immediately after its passage, Internet advocates argued that the measure could set a dangerous precedent for allowing pay subscribers to have their information removed from the public domain. IMDb filed suit in November, arguing that the measure violated the First Amendment by requiring an “enforced silence” on factual information that could otherwise be accessed on Google, Alexa, and Siri.
In a three-page order released Wednesday, Judge Vince Chhabria sided with those concerned about the law’s restrictions on free speech, granting an injunction barring the enforcement of the law. Chhabria wrote that “it’s difficult to imagine” how AB-1687 was not in violation of the First Amendment, and noted that the law prevented IMDb from publishing factual information—a fact that he said constituted a “restriction of non-commercial speech on the basis of content.”
The state of California and the Screen Actors Guild has long argued that many of the actors on IMDb are not public figures, meaning their ages are not factual information within the public domain. The bill’s author, Democratic California State Assemblyman Ian Calderon, explained that its aim was “protecting lesser known actors and actresses competing for smaller roles.”
But in Chhabria’s statement, he notes that the measure does little to solve the root problem behind the legislation. “It’s not clear how preventing one mere website from publishing age information could meaningfully combat discrimination at all,” he wrote. “There are likely more direct, more effective, and less speech-restrictive ways of achieving the same end.”
The industry could start by writing and demanding more roles for actors—and especially actresses—over the age of 45: According to two recent reports from the University of Southern California’s Media, Change, & Social Diversity Initiative, just 5 percent of the top 100-grossing films of 2015 depicted female lead or co-lead actresses as being over the age of 45; 26 percent did the same for men. Of all the Academy Award-nominated films in the past three years, only 11.8 percent depicted speaking characters over the age of 60.
The absence of older actors is baffling at a time when movies featuring middle-aged and senior actors—Taken, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, The Equalizer, Woman in Gold, and The Expendables among them—have performed well at the box office. The IMDb law might have proven California takes age discrimination in Hollywood seriousl—but it doesn’t put due pressure on an industry that continues to hold opportunities back from a talent pool that is doing well for it.