What’s an “Inclusion Rider” and Can It Really Help with Diversity?

A red velvet carpet draped by layers of Dior and Chanel Haute Couture leads into the infamous Dolby Theatre. The illuminated, sparkling crystal stage sits facing a room full of the most influential people in Hollywood. Whether it’s the cringey envelope mix-up for Best Picture last year or the #OscarsSoWhite movement of 2015, the Oscars almost always give us something to talk about.

 The stunning Dolby Theatre where host Jimmy Kimmel joked that each Swarovski crystal on stage represents the humility of the Hollywood elites in the room. Ed Herrera—ABC/Getty Images

The stunning Dolby Theatre where host Jimmy Kimmel joked that each Swarovski crystal on stage represents the humility of the Hollywood elites in the room. Ed Herrera—ABC/Getty Images

It’s been an eventful year in the world of filmmaking, but an even more eventful year for social movements. As with the Golden Globes, the 90th Academy Awards stuck with the theme of female empowerment, showing support for movements like #MeToo and #TimesUp, that have been raising awareness for sexual harassment not only in the entertainment industry but in all workplaces across the globe.

Female Empowerment

Several comments were made throughout the evening to celebrate the achievements of women in Hollywood. While reading the nominees for Best Director, Emma Stone read, “these four men and Greta Gerwig,” to emphasize the nomination of a female director (for the critically-acclaimed Lady Bird) –  only 4% of directors in the industry are women. Another achievement that was recognized was for Rachel Morrison, the first female cinematographer ever to be nominated for an Oscar (Mudbound).

The big event of the night was ultimately Frances McDormand’s winning speech for Best Actress. With her tough, smart-witted persona, McDormand asked every female nominee in every category to stand with her, sharing the spotlight with the dozens of talented yet outnumbered women in the room. But the most thought-provoking moment occurred when McDormand left audiences in the room and at home with these two words: inclusion rider.

 

Frances McDormand’s unforgettable Oscars speech after winning Best Actress

Inclusive Hiring

An inclusion rider is a clause that actors can have inserted into their contracts to enforce a certain degree of diversity in a film’s cast and crew. As explained by co-creator of the concept, Stacy L. Smith, “tertiary speaking characters should match the gender distribution of the setting for the film, as long as it’s sensible for the plot.” An inclusion rider would likely be enforced by an A-list actor being signed on to star in a film, who can request or demand for a certain degree of diversity.

As founder and director of the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative at the Annenberg School in California, the purpose of the concept can be best explained by Smith: “the world that we see in the stories should reflect the world that we actually live in.” Here is what an inclusion rider aims to achieve in its supporting roles:

  •          50% women
  •          40% people of colour
  •          20% people with disabilities
  •          5% from the LGBTQ community    

USC Annenberg interview with Stacy L. Smith, co-creator of the “inclusion rider”

This could ensure not only more diversity in the media and perhaps Oscar nominees, but also that acting and production jobs are dispersed with less bias in regards to gender, race or ability. While things like quotas and blind hiring practices have been proposed in the past, they don’t always ensure representation in media whether it’s on or off screen. The only issue with this concept is that it can only set sail if people in power want it to.

Influencers

The good news is that some influential people have already started to jump on board and want this clause instilled in their contracts. Michael B. Jordan was one of the first, riding his high from Black Panther and the new HBO adaptation of Fahrenheit 451 which is soon to be released. Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, along with their production company Pearl Street Films have decided to adopt the clause for all future projects. Director Paul Feig, known for comedies such as Bridesmaids and The Heat is for the inclusion rider too. Brie Larson has also jumped on board saying she’s ready for the change.

Aspiring to work in the entertainment industry, the idea that it’s not just about social media movements anymore gives me hope. Rallies and raising awareness are great, but now it’s about action. It’s about figuring out new creative ways to deal with the lack of diversity on and off screen.

As McDormand summed up so perfectly, “the whole idea of women ‘trending’? No. African-Americans ‘trending’? No. It changes now and I think the inclusion rider will have something to do with that.”