Humana, USC study: Older characters portrayed inaccurately in most critically acclaimed films

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Older characters feeble, sick, inactive

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (Feb. 17, 2017) — Characters 60 and older in critically acclaimed films are often underrepresented and stereotypically portrayed, says a joint study by Humana Inc. and the Media, Diversity, & Social Change Initiative at University of Southern California’s (USC) Annenberg School for Communications and Journalism.

USC analyzed 1,256 speaking or named characters in the 25 best picture-nominated films in 2014, 2015, and 2016, to assess the portrayal of characters aged 60 and over. Humana also analyzed its own quantitative survey data on the attributes considered most important for aging Americans. One theme that emerged from the Humana data was the perceived importance of feeling optimistic, valued or recognized.

The study found:

  • Of 1,256 characters evaluated, only 148 (11.8 percent) were 60 years of age or older – despite representing 18.5 percent of the U.S. population, according to the 2010 U.S. Census.
  • Six of the 14 films that featured a leading or supporting aging character contained ageist comments. Examples of these comments include “mentally feeble, sick old ladies” and “…just sit here and let Alzheimer’s run its course” – revealing that even critically acclaimed films misrepresent what it means to be a senior citizens
  • Humana’s quantitative survey segmented seniors aged 60 and over by those who feel most valued, which was defined as being positively recognized and appreciated by family, friends and society
  • Those seniors who felt least valued reported more than twice as many physically unhealthy days and more than three times as many mentally unhealthy days per month as their “most valued” counterparts.
  • Regardless of their health, most seniors agreed that film industry portrayals of their age group were inaccurate.

Screen Shot 2017-02-17 at 4.13.25 PM“Clearly, there’s more work to be done before we can say precisely how inaccurate media portrayals impact self-image in seniors, from their sense of being valued to their sense of optimism, but what really concerns me as a physician is how a diminished sense of self-worth can, in turn, impact a senior’s health,” said Dr. Yolangel Hernandez Suarez, vice president and chief medical officer of care delivery at Humana.

“In our survey, we showed that aging Americans who report feeling more valued in society tend to have more healthy days. At Humana, we believe aging with optimism contributes to health, and that’s why we’re committed to reversing societal perceptions and promoting aging with optimism,” she said.

Key findings surrounding both studies will be showcased at “Over Sixty, Underestimated: A Look at Aging on the ‘Silver’ Screen in Best Picture-Nominated Films”, a discussion at the University of Southern California on Feb. 16. The event, which will be livestreamed at https://www.facebook.com/Humana/.

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