hacks. Abbott Elementary School. Grace and Frankie. Curb your enthusiasm. The lion’s share of Nancy Meyers’ films. All popular, all with advanced-age characters.
In the past discussion of diverse media representation, the importance of seeing older adults on screen (technically defined as over 65 years old) has been largely ignored. This, of course, reflects how much the elderly are overlooked in society. But philanthropist Wallis Annenberg’s GenSpace — a 7,000-square-foot senior center in LA’s Koreatown and site of THRThe May 31 Raising Our Voices Gala is working to change that.
In addition to daily fitness, wellness, and craft classes, the community center hosts events like a January luncheon featuring the cast of 80 for Brady, a true story of four octogenarians who share a love for (now retired) NFL quarterback Tom Brady and his producer Donna Gigliotti. To mark the occasion, there was a panel discussion designed to change the way people talk about older adults, starring film stars Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, Sally Field and Billy Porter, and was attended by Hollywood executives, authors and GenSpace members .
“We want stories that focus on this demographic, are made by this demographic, and are statistically seen well outside of this demographic,” says Gigliotti. “It’s good for business, but it’s also good for society as a whole. And there simply isn’t a DEI movement that doesn’t involve representation or hiring practices without older adults.”
Nuanced on-screen portrayals of seniors — which jettison stereotypes such as the weak or grumpy, homebound character — can also help combat ageism. “It’s just not accurate or good storytelling,” says Gigliotti, citing a study by the American Psychological Association that showed negative thoughts about aging can shorten a person’s lifespan by seven and a half years. “Besides the writers, most of Hollywood is indeed run by senior-aged executives, and yet the numbers seen on the big screen don’t accurately reflect the numbers we see at home, in our businesses, and in our day-to-day operations have roles in the community.”
In the 80 for Brady Over lunch, Fonda was hopeful about trends in the entertainment industry in representation: “Older women [are] the fastest growing population in the world. It’s a business and if they want to cater to the market they have to start writing TV shows about older women. And they do.”
Porter added, “As the black, outing, queer man in the world, my greatest pride is aging.” When I was younger, I felt like I needed to care about what other people said about me think. The older I get – I just don’t give a shit.”
At GenSpace, which opened in April 2022, the average age of members (who pay a reasonable $10 a month) is around 72. The center currently has around 180 members who attend an average of three courses per week. Fitness classes include dance aerobics, belly dancing, and tai chi, as well as a volunteer-led smartphone class, garden therapy program, and choir.
Annenberg was inspired to open GenSpace by the Surgeon General’s warning that loneliness and social isolation are an epidemic and a major health risk for older adults. Located in a diverse neighborhood with public transportation, the welcoming space was created in consultation with the Stanford Center on Longevity and USC’s Leonard Davis School of Gerontology.
“We will all – if we are lucky – continue to age. Too often, aging is portrayed as decay when in reality it can be an expansion into a deeper, more joyful way of life,” says Annenberg. “I have found it to be a time of vitality and inventiveness, a time of igniting new passions, new friendships and new projects – but it requires community and connection.”
This story first appeared in the May 31 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to login.