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Junie Hoang (Handout)
Junie Hoang (Handout)

Liam Lacey: Behind the Screens

Why Junie Hoang can't lose in her lawsuit against IMDb Add to ...

Last week, the showbiz world discovered Junie Hoang, née Huong Hoang, an actress who launched a suit against the Internet Movie Database and its parent company, Amazon, for more than a million dollars. Hoang says the company revealed her age (40) without her permission on its “IMDbPro” subscription service.

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The suit is an amended version of an early suit from last October, which Hoang tried to do anonymously, fearing backlash from the entertainment industry. The defendants’ lawyers called her case “selfish, contrary to the public interest and a frivolous abuse of this court’s resources.” IMDb offered no apologies for getting her age from credit-card data when she paid for a subscription.

The story of the anonymous actress and her lawsuit sounded like a terrific publicity stunt. Sites like Gawker.com turned the attempts to guess her identity into an online game, working with these tidbits of information – an Asian-American woman, from Texas, aged 40, using an Americanized version of her name. But nobody got it.

When a judge threatened to throw her case out unless she used her real name, Hoang finally stepped into the spotlight. According to IMDbPro, she was born in Saigon in 1971, though her resumé lists her age range as between 26 and 33. Along with a lot of minor TV work and modeling in the last two decades, she’s been in some silly-sounding movies such as the recent Gingerdead Man III: Saturday Night Cleaver. What can’t be laughed off so easily is how much her charge has resonated with actors’ groups.

Two heavyweight unions, the 200,000-member Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and the 80,000-member American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) came to the then-unnamed actress’s defence in October, denouncing IMDb’s policy: “An actor’s actual age is irrelevant to casting. What matters is the age range that an actor can portray. For the entire history of professional acting, this has been true, but that reality has been upended by the development of IMDb as an industry standard used in casting offices across America.”

Last Friday, SAG issued another statement praising Hoang for her courage in “standing up to fight the unfair and abusive practice of publishing actors’ private information online without their consent.” The organization says thousands of actors have been hurt by IMDb’s unauthorized publication of their ages, particularly women. According to the union, women over 40 make up 24.3 per cent of the U.S. population, but actresses over 40 get just 12.5 per cent of movie and television roles, while men are proportionally represented. Using legal remedies against age discrimination has become increasingly popular in the United States. Two years ago, a class action by writers over 40 ended in a $70-million settlement paid out by 17 networks and production studios, putting an end to a practice of hiring young writers for television to capture young viewers.

Even if Hoang’s suit fails, she’s both drawn attention to the issue and done wonders for her profile. The Hollywood Reporter said that Today, Good Morning America, E! and other TV outlets, as well as Peoplemagazine have all been clamouring for interviews. Hoang has declined, insisting she’s not in this for publicity. Still, some sharpie at HBO or Showtime must be drafting the script for her story already. We start way back in 1971, during the wind-down of the Vietnam War, also the year Ms. Magazine first appeared as an insert in New York magazine. Huang can easily play herself as a struggling actress through her 20s and 30s, but then there’s that perceived age-range problem: Judging by her IMDb photograph, she looks far too young to play 40.

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Follow on Twitter: @liamlacey

 
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