It's hard to be a lady in the entertainment business — especially one who's subject to the passage of time. The denizens of Tinseltown would rather fry off their faces with chemical burns and sandpaper away sun spots than look a day over 22. Youth is exalted, and old is invisible. Aging actresses are left with very few roles to choose from — and most of those are already taken by Helen Mirren or Tyler Perry. At least, that's what Junie Hoang is contending in her lawsuit against IMDb.
Hoang contends that IMDb "outting" her true age has resulted in a loss of work, and has caused emotional turmoil. While the suit might seem frivolous to some, it was interesting enough that IMDb's parent company Amazon's General Counsel showed up in court to watch closing arguments.
When initially tinkering with her profile on IMDb, Junie Hoang went to lengths to keep her true age off the site. In fact, the 41-year-old actress logged on under a friend's account and put in a fake birth date that made her seven years younger. However, when she later used her credit card to sign up for IMDb Pro, she claims they used that information to track down her real age and post it to her profile. Ruh roh.
The New York Post reports:
Though IMDb said it double-checked the birth date info with a publicly available database, Hoang clams the age publication was a violation of her privacy and that the site owes her damages for the harm the revelation did to her chances of getting roles.
“In the entertainment industry, youth is king,” she said in her civil complaint. “If one is perceived to be ‘over-the-hill,’ i.e. approaching 40, it is nearly impossible for an up-and-coming actress . . . to get work.”
Further, Hoang's court documents claim that IMDb has been involved in a multitude of legal disputes in recent years relating to it displaying performers' ages.
For their part, IMDb contends that accuracy is more important that privacy — and that Hoang lied about her age on the site, and violated their Subscriber Agreement. They're pissed about that, because user agreement word is bond (or whatever).
Right before the trial, which began on Monday in Seattle, the court issued an order that included denial of Hoang's request to exclude testimony about her submission of false identification documents to IMDb, and IMDb's requests to exclude exhibits (most significantly, the profiles of other actors who are pissed at the website for publishing their real ages), and most upsetting to Hoang's case — the court granted IMDb’s request to exclude “testimony about ageism in Hollywood," and said the parties couldn't use the term “age discrimination” during the trial due to its potential for "confusing the jury".
Venkat Balasubramani, a lawyer covering the trial for The Hollywood Reporter, writes that after the second (and final) day in court, things are looking pretty good for IMDb:
No one can predict what the jury will do, but a thorough examination of Hoang’s income raised the question of what is really at stake and whether she was really more of a disgruntled customer than a person who had suffered damages.
Further, she did not necessarily come across as dishonest, but the fact that she submitted incomplete information at every step of the way may plant the seed in the jury's mind that IMDb was justified in ascertaining her true identity and date of birth regardless of whether her email gave express permission or not. Ultimately, the outcome could depend on whether the jury views the principle of privacy as something that is important and should be vindicated regardless of damage caused or whether it takes a more practical — no harm, no foul — view of the situation.
IMDb has a point — they are the LinkedIn of Hollywood (shudder), and it's important to their reputation to provide correct information to their clients — particularly since IMDb pro is a paid service that's very highly referenced in L.A. If they let people go in there and add all sorts of false info, it could turn it into a mess of Myspace proportions.
However, why can't IMDb just let them opt out of publishing their age? I'm unclear what's the harm in allowing that option — it's not a lie and it's what the performer feels comfortable with. You don't want to add your age, weight, height, religion, day you got your first period, whatever — OK, no prob. The section would remain blank, and site visitors can do with that information what they will.
Because Hoang's case isn't without merit. Show business is absolutely ageist — and, let's be real, every other kind of -ist, too. The overwhelming majority of people on the silver screen (or boob tube) are white, thin, young things. The real world results? The people playing the parents on the new 90210 are barely distinguishable from the actors playing their kids. However, Hollywood obviously sees this as a good thing, and in their pains to paint the picture of perfection, someone has to pay the price. And that someone is the ninety-five percent of the population who doesn't look like Ashley Tisdale.
Maybe if Hollywood was more comfortable creating and broadcasting a more accurate portrayal of America — where women aren't just under 25 (can play all ages, 11-64) or over 65 (gotta have a few grandmas knock-knock-knocking on heaven's door so they can teach wise and powerful lessons or be driven around by Morgan Freeman) — we wouldn't give a shit Hoang is 41. Or, more accurately, Hoang wouldn't give a shit she's 41.
She wouldn't give a shit because there would be roles written for women of various ages — and even better, stories told about them. It wouldn't matter that Hoang is 41 because there would be a plethora of roles for 41-year-old women to choose from. And yes, maybe she'd still be beaten out for roles for whatever reason, but we'll never know.
[picture via Hoang's IMDb]