Robert De Niro Is Not Old: The Impact of Cinema on Aging

Robert De Niro Is Not Old: The Impact of Cinema on Aging

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When Hollywood and top clothing designers converge on a theme, it's probably worth paying attention.

In the fashion world, Women's Wear Daily reported last year on the $21 billion market in fashion for boomers. With a billion people over 60, why wouldn't the likes of Michael Kors, Donna Karan, Calvin Klein and Robert Verdi design for us?

The over-60 demographic in America holds over 70% of the country’s disposable income. While the numbers are harder to get in Europe, Japan, South Korea and China, everything we know about demographics and economics tells us there is a market here that any business would want to tap. 

Hollywood, too, seems to be realizing that there are markets other than teens and millennials playing video games. More films are featuring older stars as heroes, as in “Red” and “Red 2.” Let’s hope Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren and John Malkovich are recognized for the quality of their recent work.  

Related: Boomers: A Proven Market That Knows How to Spend   

Another example: the delightful and truly insightful “Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.” The star-studded cast – which adds Richard Gere in the second installment -- travels from the UK to India finding new lives, re-inventing retirement, having great sex and winning the war against traditional ideas about "aging." Seeing Dame Dench on a moped going to her new job where she helps youth who could be her grandchildren, and Maggie Smith overcoming her hip replacement surgery and running the hotel is, well, inspiring. Gere's silver hair is part of his charisma in a love story in which two people find each other later in life. Nor is it inconsequential that cinema’s best exotic franchise has now sparked some entrepreneurship, inspiring Elizabeth Isele's "Senior Entrepreneurship Works" in creative partnerships across the planet.

And then there’s Hollywood’s genius at nostalgia in the form of the latest “Man from U.N.C.L.E.”   Millions of “boomers” will finally have the mystery solved on how Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin came together, with the door left open to sequels. Clearly someone at Warner Brothers sees money to be made, and as there is no gee-wiz 21st century technology gadgetry, you can bet they see their demographic in those who watched the TV series during the height of the Cold War.   

Related: Silver Economy's Golden Opportunity

However, the really cool thing about the impact of cinema on aging is how it can help us re-imagine institutions and concepts which to date have been restricted to public policy analysis, white papers and thought leadership roundtables. Enter “The Intern” starring Robert De Niro and Anne Hathaway and directed by Nancy Meyers. The film is due out late September, but if you're lucky enough to see the trailers it will be very clear that the use of comedy to treat a profoundly serious topic -- re-inventing retirement from hobbies and busy stuff to work, 21st century style -- will not only be fun to see, probably heartwarming to all, but also give truth to concepts like the value of wisdom, experience, attitude and age-diversity for business success.

When I go to the UK in two weeks to participate in a meeting with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development at Oxford University on the topic of ageing and the digital economy, leaders from the worlds of business, academia, non-profits and labor will write a report on how to advance "digital literacy." Our expectation is that this will help create powerful platforms for integration of all of us as we age to engage in all aspects of daily life, including work. I'm also confident that De Niro's performance in “The Intern” can have at least as large an impact on how we transform our 20th century ideas into 21st century demographic realities -- and help us reimagine “old”!    

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Executive director of the Global Coalition on Aging, Michael W. Hodin, Ph.D., is also managing partner at High Lantern Group and a fellow at Oxford University's Harris Manchester College.