“I have two words to leave with you tonight, ladies and gentlemen: inclusion rider,” Frances McDormand said Sunday night at the end of a rousing acceptance speech for the best actress Oscar in which she urged the other nominees to stand up and reminded the audience that every woman standing had stories to tell and projects that needed financing.
So what is an inclusion rider? As Stacy Smith, who researches gender equality in film and television at the University of Southern California, has put it, it’s the idea that A-list actors have the ability to stipulate in their contracts that diversity be reflected both onscreen and in “below the line” positions, where women, people of color, and members of LGBT communities are traditionally underrepresented.
Smith, the founder and director of the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative at USC, has written on the topic — she also delivered a TED Talk in October 2016 — but she said in an interview Sunday night that McDormand’s endorsement was the biggest public acknowledgment to date.
She said a typical inclusion rider would set bench marks for diversity in staffing. As an example, it could require the cast be 50 percent female, 40 percent underrepresented ethnic groups, 20 percent people with disabilities, and 5 percent LGBT people.
The idea, she said, would be to ensure “the world onscreen looks like the world in which we live.”
It would also require that there “a good-faith effort to ensure representation in key areas behind the camera” and that “bias is corralled in the interviewing and hiring process,” she said.
A failure to meet the terms of the rider could lead to a fee or a penalty for the studio or distributor that doesn’t meet the contract terms she said.
If top actors insisted on the rider, diverse casting could become commonplace, she said.
“We could see the numbers onscreen and behind the camera jump if it was adopted by some of the most powerful people in Hollywood,” she said.
Backstage, McDormand said she just learned about inclusion riders last week, even though such provisions have long been available. Acknowledging that pushes for diversity have been treated as fads in Hollywood with no lasting effects, she said: “The whole idea of women trending? No. African-Americans trending? No. It changes now.” And inclusion riders, she said, can mean real change.