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Exploring Representation of Older Characters in Film and TV: Insights from the Study (2010-2020)

The Geena Davis Institute, in partnership with Next50 has spearheaded a comprehensive analysis examining how women aged 50 and older are depicted in leading films and scripted television series, as per Nielsen ratings, spanning a decade from 2010 to 2020. Our research unveils critical insights into the portrayal of characters aged 50+, highlighting a significant gap in representation across major cinematic and television productions.

Key Findings on Age Representation: A Decade in Review

  • Characters aged 50+ constitute less than a quarter of all personas in blockbuster movies and top-rated TV shows from the last decade.
  • On-screen disparity is evident, with male characters significantly outnumbering females within the 50+ age bracket: 80% in films, 75% in broadcast TV, and 66% in streaming platforms.
  • The narrative around 50+ characters often leans towards villainy over heroism, with 59% of films and 43.2% of TV shows featuring older villains compared to 30% and 22.1% showcasing heroes, respectively.
  • Romantic storylines are disproportionately lower for characters 50+, with younger characters two to three times more likely to experience romance.

Audience Perspectives on Aging Representation A survey targeting Americans aged 50 and above reveals a disconnection between media portrayals of older individuals and audience expectations. Both men and women seek more authentic, diverse, and aspirational stories that reflect their realities, contradicting common stereotypes associated with aging.

Strategic Recommendations for Media Industry

  • Authentic Aging Narratives: Address the underrepresentation by focusing on genuine stories that resonate with the 50+ demographic, ensuring they see themselves accurately depicted on screen.
  • Redefining Roles: Challenge stereotypes by casting women, particularly those of color, in traditionally male roles, enhancing gender and racial diversity among characters 50+.
  • Celebrating Intersectionality: Increase narratives around LGBTQIA+ and disabled individuals within the 50+ community, promoting broader inclusivity.
  • Reshaping Age Perception: Shift away from clichéd portrayals of aging as a punchline. Foster respect and dignity by avoiding ageist humor and stereotypes.
  • Inclusive Language: Monitor and adapt the dialogue to prevent perpetuating negative connotations associated with aging, promoting a culture of respect and appreciation for life at all stages.

Through our analysis, it’s clear that characters aged 50+ are often boxed into extremes—portrayed either as frail and out of touch or as overly capable heroes and villains. It’s time to normalize the portrayal of 50+ individuals living vibrant, nuanced lives, acknowledging their challenges while celebrating their contributions and experiences.