Frances McDormand dropped the two key words during her Oscars acceptance speech Sunday
Two words spawned many an internet search.
Frances McDormand in her best actress Oscars acceptance speech Sunday urged Hollywood power brokers to fund women’s projects — then dropped the phrase “Inclusion Rider,” or a clause in an A-lister’s contract demanding gender and racial equity for minor roles. Googling ensued.
“I just found out about this last week. This has always been available to all — everybody who does a negotiation on a film — which means you can ask for or demand at least 50 percent diversity in not only the casting but the crew,” McDormand elaborated backstage. “The fact that I just learned that after 35 years in the film business — we aren’t going back.”
The idea gained immediate traction: “It’s something we didn’t know we could demand,” Meryl Streep said, according to Vanity Fair. “It’s because girls ask for permission, but now, we are just bursting.” “We should support this for a billion reasons, but if you can’t find a reason to, here’s one: it will make movies better,” tweeted comedian Whitney Cummings. “I’m committed to the Inclusion Rider. Who’s with me?” wrote Brie Larson.
The Inclusion Rider, developed by University of Southern California Annenberg Inclusion Initiative founder Stacy Smith alongside lawyer Kalpana Kotagal and actor-producer Fanshen Cox DiGiovanni, seeks to increase diversity and better reflect our world’s demographic makeup by boosting representation of women, people of color, LGBTQ people and the differently abled in minor onscreen roles. It’s a way “to slow down the auditioning and casting process and ensure that casters are thoughtful and really auditioning talent from different groups,” Smith told Moneyish, “not those that might just easily come to mind.”
The rider also covers below-the-line, off-camera gigs like director of photography, cinematographer, first and second assistant director, and composer, which can often go to the same individuals within a tight network, Smith said: “This is one way to ensure that bias due to familiarity or past working relationships … can’t just simply be carried over,” she said. “There needs to be a good-faith effort to interview and potentially hire in those key positions behind the camera.”
Among the 100 top films of 2016, a previous study by Smith’s team found, just 31.4% of speaking characters were women — a measly 1.5% increase from 2007. Under 30% of all characters came from underrepresented racial or ethnic groups. “It really doesn’t make sense that we see such tilted representation of straight, white, able-bodied males onscreen year in and year out,” Smith said. “The inclusion rider can really be used as a tool to make sure that the casting process is equitable.”
The rider contains an evaluation component, so studios that don’t meet the contract’s stipulations face a financial penalty; tax credits, Smith hopes, will provide further incentive to create productions of inclusion. Smith, who had discussed the rider with folks from WME, UTA and other top agencies, says she was “absolutely elated” to learn it had reached McDormand’s ears.
Now, she added, “it would be great if one of the agencies took a leadership position and said, ‘We’re asking all of our talent if they would like an inclusion rider’ … and making sure it is part of the process for how actors’ contracts are put together and negotiated for any of these notable and large films.”
“I’m waiting for the agencies to call and make a public pledge to adopt, because that would be the home run — not just for the industry, but for all those folks who tune in and don’t see themselves represented,” Smith said. “This could be a major leap forward for making sure storytelling is as inclusive as the world we live in.”
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