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The Intriguing Potential of the Inclusion Rider

A deeper look into what 2017's best actress was talking about 

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public calling out for Alexa or rummaging around for a dictionary.

“I have two words to leave with you tonight, ladies and gentlemen: inclusion rider,” the actress said into the microphone after delivering an expected outpouring of “thank yous.”

 

Then she left the stage. Most people, myself included, wondered what McDormand was talking about. Was she promoting a sequel to Niki Caro’s acclaimed, 2003 feature Whale Rider? Was this a slurry way of saying that everyone’s favorite TV mom, Winona Ryder, should be in more than just Stranger Things?

 

McDormand elaborated once she had the opportunity to talk to reporters backstage. Having learned about it just the week before and thinking the Oscars would be a perfect time to advertise it, the actress explained that an inclusion rider is the name of a clause that has the potential to make lasting inclusion in Hollywood feasible.

 

Thought up by Stacy Smith, founder and director of the University of Southern California’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, the clause gives A-list actors the opportunity to stipulate in their contracts that diversity be reflected both in front of and behind the camera. 

 

Essentially, leading actors and actresses have the ability to ask that the actors involved with a given production, for example, be 50 percent female, 40 percent underrepresented ethnic groups, 20 percent people with disabilities, and 5 percent LGBTQIA+ individuals. If a distributor or studio does not abide by these contractual provisions after agreeing to the conditions, they could be met with a fee or some other kind of penalty.

 

“For on-screen roles that are supporting and minor in nature, they have to be filled with norms that reflect the world in which we live,” Smith told the Washington Post shortly after the awards ceremony.

 

The concept itself came about only recently, as Smith had given a TED talk about it in 2016, and is mostly familiar with studio insiders. Now that McDormand used her platform to shed prominent light on the clause, one wonders if it will become commonplace, thanks to performers who genuinely want to enforce change.

 

It’s too soon to tell. And perhaps we’ll never really know how often inclusion riders will be used; actors tend to avoid disclosing behind-the-scenes negotiations (unless you’re Octavia Spencer and proudly tell the world that Jessica Chastain used her privilege to help you get a fair salary).

 

But like McDormand, who will obviously be including the clause in her contract from now on, I’m thrilled about what inclusion riders could do if they were adopted by the most influential of our actors and actresses. Although changes, as a result of the stipulation, will most likely come slowly (the industry, after all, will have to readjust many of its pre-production practices) the potential is huge. If the majority of actors were to feature an inclusion rider in their contracts, flagging statistics revolving around underrepresentation would dramatically improve. Given enough time, producers and distributors could plausibly adjust to the hiring practices promoted by the clause, and inclusion would be less purposeful and more off-the-cuff.

 

This sort of all-inclusive, equal rights promoting industry utopia is idyllic, of course. It undoubtedly is not something that can be quickly imposed and made mainstream. It will take time and fervent support. But this vision is one I, and likely many others, want to see realized. So if time really is up for an industry that has condoned so much abuse and exploitation over the years, I hope industry bigwigs take these necessary steps to enact change rather than just talk about it.

 

 

 

- MARCH 9, 2018

 

This piece also appeared in The Daily.

W

hen Frances McDormand won the Best Actress Oscar for her leading performance in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri on Sunday, she sent much of the internet into a tizzy

 

After giving a rousing, if rabid, speech that included a couple fits of maniacal laughter and a memorable push for female empowerment, she concluded on a note that left much of the