Monday, 8 July 2019

Open letter to the BBC - Acting Your Age Campaign

Dear BBC,

In May 2018 I launched my Acting Your Age Campaign which called for greater representation of women over the age of 40 onscreen in film and TV. 

I contacted several of your news programmes, arts programmes and your female centred show Woman’s Hour to promote the campaign and highlight the lack of representation of women over 40 compared to men.

I even made a very short campaign film which features a wealth of our most most loved and talented actors.

I wasn’t asked to appear on any of your platforms. It seemed odd to me as you seemed to have a good track record of covering most feminist campaigns, on closer inspection however these campaigns seem to fall into line with your target demographic, young people; in the case of feminism, young women.

My Acting Your Age Campaign deals with the subject of gendered ageism and in the Autumn of 2018 when Ofcom published their BBC review, my concerns were borne out as Ofcom found that whilst there is gender equality in representation of men and women under the age of 45, the gender disparity by the BBC of people over the age of 45 is woeful. 

Men in primetime BBC programming over the age of 45 outnumber women, by 3-1. 

Over the age of 50 this picture for women, worsens considerably.

I recently contacted BBC Sounds your new audio platform which you tell us is something to which we can “listen without limits”. I wanted to pitch to your rolling commission for new podcasts. I was told that you are currently focusing on under 35’s only. How is this fulfilling your brief as a public broadcaster? It seems you do have limits in terms of who can listen when you’re only aiming your audio content at young ears.

Therefore, I have a proposal for you. I’m requesting that if you’re only going to cater for my demographic currently 12,000,000 women in the UK aged between 40-69 years old, perhaps you might also only ask us for a one third of the licence fee, in line with one third of the onscreen representation you offer us? 

When you distil that to the quality of roles you give us at my age or indeed to possibility to  play the lead in drama and comedy shows, I think it’s worth remembering that currently the only female character leading a comedy show in my demographic, is Mrs Brown’s Boys. 

Unsurprisingly given the popularity of gendered ageism, that woman is being played by a man. 

I look forward to not hearing from you. I’m sure you’ll ignore this letter as fully as you ignore your responsibility to representing our diverse society which includes actresses who don’t lose talent or ability as they age merely the same opportunity which you give to their male colleagues. 

I’m asking politely that you remember your mantra to inform, educate and entertain because it isn't a vague target, it's a promise. A determination to encompass and embrace all audiences. Not just young audiences. 

This exclusion of older women is sending a message of exclusion to young and older people alike. Older women are to be ignored, disenfranchised, unemployed and invisible. More worryingly isn't the message being sent speaking to a narrative that the only women who should be seen and heard are those who have the perceived sexual currency of youth. When you know that girls as young as 14 are seeking botox because they fear ageing so much, isn't it time to rethink your diversity and inclusivity goals.

Women who have creative dreams and aspirations are working in an industry which refuses to value them when the calendar changes. A drama student beginning her training today will see a career trajectory approximately half that of her male student peers. I don't remember that being taught to me when I was at drama school.

The TV & Film industry is unique in its enabled and promoted gendered ageism. An industry that calls for truth and offers facade, champions creativity but demands female cosmetic alteration, searches for stories but ignores experience and values wisdom as long as it's male; and since its inception, the song remains the same.

Very best,

Nicky Clark 
"Acting Your Age Campaign" 
Female age is a number not a career deadline.