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Frances McDormand talks need for ‘inclusion riders’ in Oscars speech

Here’s what that would mean for diversity and representation in Hollywood

“I have two words to leave with you tonight, ladies and gentlemen, ‘inclusion rider’,” Frances McDormand said as she closed her powerful Oscars acceptance speech for best actress.

McDormand picked up her second best actress Oscar, this time for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – the stunning, searing tragicomedy about grief, acceptance and complex human emotion in a disenfranchised part of the U.S. McDormand plays Mildred, a mother who rents three billboards to highlight her daughter’s unsolved brutal murder. 

In her speech, she drew attention to the concept of an ‘inclusion rider” a clause that an actor can stipulate in a contract to ensure a film’s cast and crew meets certain levels of representation. It’s an idea first developed by Count University of Southern California communications professor Stacy Smith and civil rights and employment practice attorney Kalpana Kotagal. They began working on the idea further and bringing it to Hollywood agencies in the wake of #MeToo and #TimesUp, but this is the first major acknowledgement. 

After the Oscars ceremony, Smith explained the concept to Vanity Fair: “It stipulates that in small and supporting roles, characters should reflect the world we live in,” she said. That means 50 per cent gender parity, 40 per cent inclusion for people of colour, five percent LGBTQ, and 20 per cent disabled. 

“We’re hoping agencies can ask every actor ‘Would you like an inclusion rider?’” Smith added. “If you get the Hollywood elite to adopt it in their contracts, it becomes baked in.”

Smith related that the ultimate goal of the ‘inclusion rider’ is to “erase bias” from auditioning and casting. It could mean negotiations for equal and fair pay happen on all levels of filmmaking, and cast and crew is diverse across race, sex, people with disabilities and LGBTQ people.

McDormand told press after the ceremony that she had only learned about it recently. “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.”

In a 2014 piece in the Hollywood Reporter, Smith asked that Hollywood adopt the rider in a similar way that the NFL brought in the ‘Rooney Rule’, a commitment to considering people of colour for head coaching positions. She also highlighted the equity idea with hard statistics: “If notable actors working across 25 top films in 2013 had made this change to their contracts, the proportion of balanced films (about half-female) would have jumped from 16 percent to 41 percent.”

Smith also writes that a simple step to creating a more diverse space is adding five female speaking roles to feature films. These movies roughly include around 45 characters, mostly small parts, but many go by default to men as ‘doctors’ or authority figures due to deeply embedded gender roles.

Many actors and prominent film industry figures have offered support to the ‘inclusion rider’ concept, like Meryl Streep and Brie Larson. 

In recent times, we’ve heard that Jessica Chastain helped Octavia Spencer helped negotiate a joint deal for a film that saw her paid a fairer wage. Directors like Mudbound’s Dee Rees have also spoken about demanding more for marginalised people. The work continues to make inclusion and representation a contractual, mandatory thing.