We are living in a day and age where time is up. Time is up on waiting any longer for equality. What was once a race issue has become a full-fledged humanity issue. At the center is a group of activists who are using their platforms, be it as a result of a shooting at their school, or the pay gap in their careers, or sexual misconduct at the hands of the elite, to make a change instead of simply be angry, oppressed, forgotten any longer.
The anticipation of the Oscars was one riddled with what ifs of how actors would use their platform for activism. Amidst acceptance speeches, there was what many called the most powerful moment of all, Frances McDormand saying “If I fall over, pick me up because I’ve got some things to say,” having then then went on to urge all of the female nominees in the room to stand up. The response to her speech was praised, with public support abound on social media.
But to many, there was one specific moment that stood out, either because it was baffling or right on target. Frances dropped the mic with two big words: “inclusion rider.”
Frances, 60, won the Best Actress award for her role as the grieving mother in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. She closed her acceptance speech by saying, “I have two words to leave with you tonight, ladies and gentlemen: inclusion rider.”
But what exactly is an inclusion rider, and why should we care? That’s a question that came up quite hastily following the Oscars, and you should be glad it did.
An inclusion rider is a stipulation that actors and actresses can request to have as part of their contracts. It makes it necessary for diversity to exist within a film’s cast and crew. Should, for instance, a film request an A-list actor to come on board, they can demand that “tertiary speaking characters should match the gender distribution of the setting for the film, as long as it’s sensible for the plot,” as explained by Stacy L. Smith, director of the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative for the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. Stacy coined the term in 2014 after writing a guest column in The Hollywood Reporter about issues of inclusion in Hollywood.
After winning, Frances explained backstage at the Oscars that she had recently learned of the concept. “You can ask for or demand at least 50% diversity in not only the casting and the crew. The fact that I just learned that after 35 years in the film business – we aren’t going back.”
While Stacy had no idea that Frances would bring up the phrase in her acceptance speech, she was “elated and thrilled to hear those two words broadcast around the world,” which makes sense considering she has pushed for more diverse representation in film for years.
“The typical feature film has about 40 to 45 speaking characters in it,” Stacy explained. “I would argue that only 8 to 10 of those characters are actually relevant to the story. The remaining 30 or so roles, there’s no reason why those minor roles can’t match or reflect the demography of where the story is taking place. An equity rider by an A-lister in their contract can stipulate that those roles reflect the world in which we actually live.”
Smith noted that she had teamed up with attorneys to put together contract jargon in relation to an inclusion rider. She has been in touch with many actors who have expressed interest in the idea.
“The real goal is to counter bias in the auditioning and casting process,” Stacy said, noting that the contract could even require a fee if the film in question failed the meet the inclusion rider’s requirements. Such stipulations include the representation and inclusion of women, people of color, the LGBT community, and the disabled. Inclusion riders would also ensure fair pay on sets.
Stacy hopes that Frances’s speech gets things moving throughout the industry. We hope so too.