There’s no arguing that this awards season showed genuine signs of genuine progress in post-Weinstein Hollywood — symbolically, at least. Black dresses, enamel Time’s Up pins and powerhouse speeches (thanks, as always, Oprah) were emblems of, here’s hoping, a more inclusive future for people other than the ever-lucky white, straight guy.
But just before the dresses and pins were doffed for another year, in blazed Frances McDormand — winner of the Best Actress Oscar for her performance as a bilious, grieving mother in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri — offering a practical, not-just-performative solution to Hollywood’s dearth of diversity: Inclusion riders.
Now, if you had to Google that (I heard “inclusion writers,” myself), you’re not alone.
‘Inclusion’ is our top search on the night, followed by ‘cinematography,’ ‘in memoriam,’ ‘feminism,’ and ‘rider.’ #Oscars
— Merriam-Webster (@MerriamWebster) March 5, 2018
But this little-known contractual clause could legitimately and visibly overhaul the established roster of silver-screen talent.
So, what is an inclusion rider (not writer!), anyway?
It’s an “equity clause” that an actor can have written into their contract, which requires a film’s cast and crew to meet a certain threshold of diversity that reflects societal demographics (e.g., a 50-50 gender split). It’s essentially a way to weed out biases at the casting stage, however unconscious they may be. The clause was originally introduced in a 2016 TED Talk by Dr. Stacy Smith, founder of the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative at the University of Southern California.
In a post-Oscars interview with The Guardian, Smith elaborated that “the goal is that talent can take the inclusion rider and adopt it in ways that make sense for their values and their beliefs,” she said. With that wiggle room in mind, Smith suggested that, regardless of the requested percentages, the clause could have broader implications for fair pay and representation among groups historically denied both (LGBTQ talent and people of colour or with disabilities, for example). And if the clause was violated? Smith says the contract could also stipulate that the film’s distributors “pay a penalty to a fund that supports female directors and other underrepresented groups.”
Has a similar rule been successfully implemented in other industries?
Yes. Many companies, regardless of industry, have internal hiring quotas for diversity’s sake, but in a 2014 op-ed for The Hollywood Reporter, Smith specifically name-checked a measure already in play at the NFL. “In interviews we conducted with [film] industry decision-makers, they used masculine words (such as “authoritative”) twice as often as feminine words (“nurturing”) to describe successful film directors,” she wrote. “To battle this bias, consider the Rooney Rule, an NFL-wide commitment to considering people of color for head coaching positions. A Hollywood Rooney Rule would ask execs and studio heads to at least interview women for director jobs.”
Does this clause have legs?
Also yes — just ask Jessica Chastain, who negotiated a joint deal to guarantee co-star Octavia Spencer a higher salary for an upcoming film. Or ask 2016 Best Actress winner Brie Larson, who voiced her support on Twitter last night:
I’m committed to the Inclusion Rider. Who’s with me? https://t.co/yvQ0wR5D80
— Brie Larson (@brielarson) March 5, 2018
Or ask Smith, who told the Guardian she has already worked with lawyers within the film industry to craft contract language and spoken with actors interested in folding it into negotiations. Or, you could always ask McDormand, who carried on with her crusade backstage after last night’s festivities: “The fact that I just learned that after 35 years of working in the film business —we’re not going back,” she said. “The whole idea of women ‘trending’ — no, no trending. African-Americans ‘trending?’ No, no trending. It changes now. And I think the inclusion rider will have something to do with that. Power in rules.”