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You may know AARP as the long-running nonprofit organization for Americans age 50 and older. You may even be one of its nearly 38 million members. What you may not know is that, for several years now, AARP has hosted the Movies for Grownups Awards, which, in the words of this year's host Alan Cumming, "recognize compelling movies and dynamic performances that appeal to a mature state of mind."
On Monday night, AARP The Magazine hosted the awards for the 17th year, at the Beverly Wiltshire Hotel. All of the event's acting nominees, as well as the nominees for Best Director and Best Screenwriter, are 50 or older. Other categories include Best Grownup Love Story and the Career Achievement award, which this year went to actress Helen Mirren. The nominees, as AARP puts it, "disrupt conventional thoughts on aging." The event also gives back to the very audience it celebrates by donating proceeds to the AARP Foundation, which works to end poverty among seniors.
"We would like to see more actors over 50 in substantive roles, which would mean bringing stories that resonate with people over 50 to life," Lorrie Lynch, director of feature content for AARP Movies for Grownups, told A Plus. "We'd like to see the wealth of experience that older actors have light up the stories of historical figures, as our Best Actor winner Gary Oldman does in Darkest Hour, or Christopher Plummer does in All the Money in the World, as well as bring stories of everyday folks to the screen — as our Best Supporting Actress winner Laurie Metcalf does in Lady Bird."
Finding meaningful roles in Hollywood can be difficult for many actors, particularly women, as they age. Last year, The Wrap cited a study by Polygraph that found that male actors tend to get more dialogue in films as they age, while female actors get less. After age 65, however, the numbers drop dramatically for both genders, to only 5 percent of male dialogue and 3 percent of female dialogue.
"When you're an actor who's been around a few years like I have, there are some roles you just don't get offered," Morgan Freeman, now 80, said when accepting the Grownup Love Story award for 5 Flights Up at the 2016 Movies for Grownups Awards. "You don't get asked to play Batman, you get asked to play his close friend and adviser. You don't get asked to play the hero secret agent, you play the CIA director. Normally you don't get cast as a romantic lead in a film, unless you're Michael Douglas."
However, older moviegoers are a huge asset to the movie industry. As AARP reported last year, moviegoers age 50 and older made up 31 percent of all moviegoers over 14, and they see movies approximately 2 percent more than the general public, attending an average of 6.8 movies each year (a number that bumps up to 7.3 percent for those over 65). Older viewers are especially crucial to the success of certain genres of film, particularly Art House films, for which they make up 75 percent of visits. The study also found that older moviegoers "drive ticket sales on movies that are marketed specifically to them," so it makes sense for Hollywood to give older generations a bigger voice on screen.
Every year, AARP honors the films which speak to this oft-overlooked demographic, even if they don't always match up with what the mainstream award shows are recognizing. However, 2017 proved to be a particularly strong year for the over-50 crowd, with acclaimed films such as Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, The Post, Phantom Thread, and even Star Wars: The Last Jedi giving older actors a chance to shine.
"Our awards just keep growing!" Lynch said of AARP's event. "Each year we see more of the award season nominees at our event as well as the others because older actors are being cast in terrific roles."
This has been reflected at shows such as the Golden Globes and Academy Awards. This year, for example, 12 out of 20 acting nominees at the Oscars are over 50 years old, compared to only six last year, and five the year before. If frontrunners Frances McDormand and Allison Janney (or even Laurie Metcalf) take home the gold, it would be the first time since 1982 that women over 50 have won both the Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress Oscar in the same year.
When asked what moviegoers can do to support the types of movies AARP honors, Lynch's answer was simple: "Go to the movies!" She added, "Support the feature films that are made by and for people who are looking for deeper topics. We love blockbusters as much as other moviegoers, but we know that selling tickets is important to keeping these 'smaller' films coming."
This year's Movies for Grownups Awards are special in that it's the first time the event will be televised for the general public. The pre-recorded show will air Friday, February 23, at 9 p.m. on PBS as part of the Great Performances series.
"Certainly, we hope for more awareness of the work we are doing to make movies more representative of our age demographic," Lynch told A Plus of the choice to televise the event. "We have great recognition in the industry and in the movie-loving community. With PBS' arts-loving Great Performance audience and its reach across the country, we know the message will go wider."
That message is important for viewers of all ages to hear. Similarly, the Movies for Grownups ceremony isn't exclusive to those over 50. Not only does the category Best Intergenerational Movie celebrate the relationships between people of different ages — the event is also open to younger attendees.
"While we are there to honor the best of the over-50 filmmakers and actors, we love to have younger stars among us," Lynch shared. "Last year Justin Timberlake was a presenter, this year Saoirse Ronan and Greta Gerwig were there to give Laurie Metcalf her award, and it was lovely to hear them pay tribute to her for the inspiration she gives them. I hope we will continue to see that infusion of youth into our ceremony. It truly adds to our evening."
If you can't wait until the show airs on PBS to find out all of the night's winners, you can see a complete list here.