With her acceptance speech for best actress at the Oscars, Frances McDormand highlighted a little-known contract provision actors can use to force Hollywood to diversify its ranks.
The actress won an Oscar for her leading role in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. And not long after she picked up her statuette 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.”
The frank-speaking McDormand, after calling for all the female nominees in the room to stand up and be recognized, ended her acceptance speech for her role in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing,
Missouri like this: “I have two words to leave with you tonight, ladies and gentlemen: inclusion rider.”
In exchange for agreeing to perform in a movie, the provision gives A-list actors a way to ensure that the studio or filmmakers will make sincere effort to make the cast and crew diverse and inclusive. Performers can specify that smaller parts and behind-the-camera jobs include people from underrepresented groups, with financial penalties for studios that fail to meet the targets.
Rather than waiting for Hollywood studios to change, actors and filmmakers have been talking about using such a tool to force more equitable and representative hiring. While the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences has changed its membership rules and increased its invitations to people of diverse ethnicity, gender and age, studies show the number of women behind or in front of the camera remains low. The statistics are even worse for women of color. McDormand elaborated to reporters backstage that she had just learned a week ago that actors can ask for 50 per cent diversity of the cast and crew. “It changes now and I think the inclusion rider will have something to do with that,” she said.
The provision was created by Stacy Smith, an associate professor at University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, and developed along with employment attorney Kalpana Kotagal. Smith wrote in a report last year that actors have the ability to support inclusion at a time when studios are showing little progress.
“A‐list talent can add an ‘equity rider’ to their contract stipulating that efforts must be made to achieve inclusive hiring practices,” Smith wrote. “By exercising their power contractually, actors and other talent can ensure that equality is part of a film from the nascent stages of the project.” When asked where she had been inspired from McDormand told reporters: “I just found out about this last week,” 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.”