Why ‘Silver’ Actors Could Grab Some Oscar Gold

Why ‘Silver’ Actors Could Grab Some Oscar Gold

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As you watch the Academy Awards this year, it’s worth keeping in mind that the annual AARP ‘Life at 50-Plus’ event isn’t until May. It would be easy to get confused. With Clint Eastwood (age 84), Michael Keaton (age 63), J.K. Simmons (60), Julianne Moore (54), Meryl Streep (65), and Robert Duvall (84) all nominated for the top hardware, the Oscars are no longer the preserve of baby-faced A-listers.

Perhaps what’s even more remarkable about the coup of these “retirement age” actors and directors is that it’s not news. The pop-happy media is doing its usual gaga dance in the lead up to the red carpet affair – and not once is it mentioned (much less bemoaned) that the senior citizens are hogging the limelight.

Related: Oscars 2015: The Nominees’ Worst Films

As the Eastwoods and Streeps of Hollywood continue year after year to make the best films, we are witnessing a new genre of films emerge – films that explore and illustrate 21st century longevity. Indeed, as Hollywood’s best grow older, and as audiences across the world age right along with them, why not this new genre? Why wouldn’t Hollywood – and Bollywood, for that matter – recognize the market opportunity? With a billion people globally over 60, there’s only so much appetite for another heartthrob romance or toilet-humor gag-fest.  

The best art, it’s been said since the days of ancient Greece, is that which holds a mirror to our lives. If we as a society are aging, so too should the movies. Hollywood teaches us one of the most critical lessons about turning global population aging into a sustainable source of economic growth for the 21st century. 

The more movies that Eastwood and Oprah produce, the more roles that Moore and Streep perform – the more movies will be made. These “seniors” aren’t taking roles from their younger counterparts. They’re building out Hollywood, turning it into a broader and more robust industry. The younger starlets should be shining Duvall’s shoes, begging him to keep at it.

Related: What ‘60 Minutes’ Got Right and Wrong About Aging

The same holds true in finance and retail, manufacturing and healthcare. No matter the industry, growth and development is rooted in an organizations ability to keep older adults contributing in the workplace. Older workers aren’t “taking jobs” from their younger colleagues; they’re adding to the equation, growing the economy, and making more opportunities for everyone.

It’s not often that Hollywood teaches us about macro economics, but when it speaks, we would be wise to listen. 

Not only is this new genre of movie illustrating 21st century models for economic growth, it’s celebrating 21st century longevity.

Take the sequel to the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. This is perhaps one of the least likely sequels in the history of moviemaking (save, perhaps, Speed 2). The film examines how a bunch of British pensioners head off to India to live the last of their few days on the last of their few pounds. And then a sequel? But, again, why not?

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We’re living longer than ever, and the very nature of a sequel about a group of seniors captures exactly what we are confronting today: Lives are stretching by routine into the 80s and 90s, and we’ve got to plan for these extra decades of life. If Best Exotic Marigold Hotel were to chronicle the journey of today’s retirees, we might yet see a trilogy.

Or take Red – the admittedly silly marvel comedic-cum-adventure series in which an old Bruce Willis and Morgan Freeman team up to fight the bad guys. These movies play off the tropes of the generic action flicks, but they do it with a cast that would be, if they worked at many employers, forced into retirement. But Willis and Freeman show that aging today isn’t just about longer lives – it’s about a healthier and more capable longer life. Though they mock their aging bodies, they show that they’ve still got it.

Red is a tongue-in-check affair, to be sure, but the point is that the jokes in Red don’t work if they don’t reflect reality. A few decades ago, the movie would have been impossible. There would have been no jokes to make about older people doing young things. Comedy demands a foundation of truth, and Red is nothing if not a satire of comedic realism.

This year, let’s see if there’s silver sweep of the Oscars. Let’s hope there is. Hollywood has shown both courage and market savvy in stocking films with older actors. Now it’s time to show that this strategy isn’t gesture, but the making of a new genre that is bound to thrive as the global population ages.

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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.