“I have two words to leave with you tonight, ladies and gentlemen: inclusion rider.”
Two simple words they may be, but when Frances McDormand closed her acceptance speech with them at the Academy Awards, not a whole lot of people had heard those terms paired that way. The big spike in Google searches for the phrase Sunday night reflects the frantic clatter of people across the world summoning those key words.
So, what is an inclusion rider, exactly?
Simply put: It’s a clause that actors and actresses can demand inserted into their contracts, which would require a certain level of diversity among a film’s cast and crew.
For instance, an A-list actor negotiating to join a film could use the inclusion rider — which has also been called an equity rider — to insist that “tertiary speaking characters should match the gender distribution of the setting for the film, as long as it’s sensible for the plot,” wrote Stacy L. Smith.
Smith, who directs the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative at the University of Southern California, explained the concept in a 2014 column published by The Hollywood Reporter. She has pushed for more diverse representation in film for years — delivering a TED Talk on the topic while she was at it — and the inclusion rider has been a crucial arrow in her quiver.
“It’s about who is greenlighting those decisions and who is giving the OK for certain stories to be told,” Smith told NPR’s Eric Deggans in 2016, when she and several other researchers published a large-scale data analysis of representation in film.
Deggans broke down some of those results at the time:
“The study, titled “Inclusion or Invisibility? Comprehensive Annenberg Report on Diversity in Entertainment,” found just one-third of speaking characters were female (33.5 percent), despite the fact that women represent just over half the population in America. Just 28.3 percent of characters with dialogue were from non-white racial/ethnic groups, though such groups are nearly 40 percent of the U.S. population. …
Just 3.4 percent of film directors were female, and only 7 percent of films had a cast whose balance of race and ethnicity reflected the country’s diversity. In broadcast TV, 17 percent of directors were female and 19 percent of programs were ethnically balanced.”
“I think we’re seeing, across the landscape, an erasure of certain groups; women, people of color, the LGBT community,” Smith told Eric. “This is really [an] epidemic of invisibility that points to a lack of inclusivity across [film and TV].”
To help combat this, the Inclusion Initiative says Smith worked with civil rights attorney Kalpana Kotagal to craft some language for actors to use in their contract negotiations.
Enter: Frances McDormand.
The actress won an Oscar for her leading role in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. And not long after she picked it up from the presenters, she put it down to ask all the female nominees in the building to stand: “Look around, everybody,” she said, “because we all have stories to tell and projects we need financed.”
Then, she broke out the those two little words that made a big splash online.
“I just found out about this last week,” McDormand told reporters after the ceremony, referring to the inclusion rider concept. “And so, the fact that I just learned that after 35 years of being in the film business — we’re not going back.”
Ronan Farrow, one of the journalists who helped bring attention to the allegations of sexual harassment and assault against Hollywood mega-producer Harvey Weinstein, told NPR’s Morning Edition that McDormand’s moment shows an equity movement “trying to turn this into more than just talk.”
“It’ll be interesting to see if there is an uptick in the use of [inclusion riders],” Farrow said. “This is going to be the struggle when it comes to representation, when it comes to harassment and assault. Is there going to be follow-on? Are the contracts going to change? Is the legislation going to change? Will the bylaws of the professional organizations change?”
If you ask McDormand, that answer’s clear.
“The whole idea of women ‘trending’? No. African-Americans ‘trending’? No. It changes now,” she said after the Oscars. “And I think the inclusion rider will have something to do with that — right? Power and rules.”