Hacks. Abbot Elementary School. Grace and Frankie. Control your enthusiasm. The lion’s share of Nancy Meyers’ films. All popular, all with characters of advanced age.
In the conversation about diverse media representation, the importance of seeing older adults on screen (technically defined as over-65s) has historically been largely ignored. Of course, this is a reflection of how senior citizens are overlooked in society. But philanthropist Wallis Annenberg’s GenSpace—a 7,000-square-foot senior center in LA’s Koreatown, and the location of THR‘s Raising Our Voices gala on May 31 — working to change that.
In addition to daily fitness, wellness, and arts and crafts classes, the community center hosts events such as a January luncheon with the cast of 80 for Brady, a true story of four eighties who share a love for (now retired) NFL quarterback Tom Brady and his producer Donna Gigliotti. The occasion included a panel – designed to change the narrative of how people talk about older adults – featuring movie stars Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, Sally Field and Billy Porter and was attended by Hollywood executives, writers and GenSpace members.
“We want stories about this population, made by this population and, statistically, viewed far beyond this population,” says Gigliotti. “It is good for business, but also for society as a whole. And there simply isn’t a DEI movement that doesn’t include portrayal or recruiting practices without older adults.
Nuanced portrayals of seniors on screen – which dispel stereotypes such as the frail or grumpy character at home – can also help combat ageism. “That’s just not an accurate or good story,” says Gigliotti, pointing to a study from the American Psychological Association showing that negative thinking about aging can shorten a person’s lifespan by seven and a half years. “Aside from writers, most of Hollywood is run by executives in the older age range, and yet the numbers on the screen don’t accurately reflect the numbers in our homes, businesses, and take an active role in communities every day.”
At the 80 for Brady Over lunch, Fonda offered a hopeful note about trends in representation in the entertainment industry: “Older women (are) the fastest growing demographic in the world. It’s a business and if they want to meet the market, they’re going to have to start writing television programs about older women. And they do.”
Added Porter: “Getting older is the thing I’m most proud of as a black, out, queer man in the world. When I was younger, there was something in me that felt I should care about what other people thought of me. The older I get, I just don’t give a fuck.”
At GenSpace, which opened in April 2022, the average age of members (who pay a reasonable $10 a month) hovers around 72 years old. Currently, the center has approximately 180 members who attend an average of three classes per week. Fitness classes include dance aerobics, belly dancing, and tai chi, and there’s also a volunteer-led smartphone class, a horticultural therapy program, and a choir.
Annenberg was inspired to open GenSpace by the Surgeon General’s warning that loneliness and social isolation are epidemic and a major health risk in 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’re lucky — get older. Too often aging is portrayed as a decline, when in fact it can be an extension into a deeper, more joyful way of life,” says Annenberg. “I’ve found it to be a time of vitality and resourcefulness, a time to spark new passion, new friendships, new projects – but it takes community and connection.”
This story first appeared in the May 31 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.