Before Frances McDormand ended her acceptance speech for Best Actress at the 2018 Oscars with the words, “Inclusion Rider,” most people both inside and outside the film industry had never heard of the phrase.
We’ve since learned that the concept was set in motion several years prior to McDormand’s call to action. Stacy L. Smith, PhD, associate professor of communication at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, and the founder and director of the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, got the ball rolling in 2014 with an op-ed in the Hollywood Reporter calling the industry out for its glaring gender inequity.
Joining forces with Kalpana Kotagal, an attorney and partner specializing in civil rights and employment cases at Cohen Milstein, and Fanshen Cox DiGiovanni, head of strategic outreach at Pearl Street Films, the three created a template for a clause that high-profile actors could add to their contracts. Its purpose would be to ensure that “women, people of color, people with disabilities, and members of LGBT and marginalized communities who are traditionally underrepresented be depicted on-screen in proportion to their representation in the population.” And that inclusion also extends to the crews working behind the scenes.
In a statement from the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, the three women emphasized that the rider is:
A flexible and adaptable framework that actors/content creators should consider together with counsel prior to signing on to their next project. The inclusion rider does not provide for quotas. It simply stipulates consideration of the deep bench of talented professionals from historically underrepresented groups and strongly encourages hiring and casting of qualified individuals from underrepresented backgrounds. We believe that this language is a necessary first step to eradicate inequality experienced for years on-screen and behind the camera.
The impact in Hollywood and beyond
A year later, Fast Company asked the coauthors if they believed the inclusion rider was moving the needle in Hollywood. Smith says it has helped to diversify the industry. “Warner Bros. has taken a leadership position on this topic and instituted a policy for inclusion across TV and film,” Smith points out. “Without the inclusion rider and, most importantly, Michael B. Jordan’s leadership, that would not have happened,” she contends.
Smith also notes that Ari Emanuel, the CEO of Endeavor, and his team have created an inclusion rider policy for Endeavor Content. Cox DiGiovanni says, “What Alana Mayo [head of production and development at Outlier Society], Phil Sun [partner at WME], and Minhal Baig’s film Hala have done with the seeds we helped plant is inspiring.”
Kotagal adds actress Brie Larson, and the expansion of the discussion to Warner Media’s diversity and inclusion policy, to the growing list of people and companies that have used or been influenced by the inclusion rider.
Beyond Hollywood, Kotagal says, “Olympic gold medalist Simone Manuel has adopted an inclusion rider, as has JAMS, the largest private provider of mediation and arbitration services worldwide.”
In less than a year, Smith observes, “The inclusion rider has moved from concept to concrete actions that creatives and companies are employing to counter biases in hiring across entertainment, sports, theater, and technology.”
But the effort toward greater inclusivity is far from over. Smith suggests that tax incentives for film and TV production in the U.S. be tied to inclusion criteria on-screen and behind the camera, as would ensuring that hiring practices for feature film directors are inclusive.
“Right now, only 4% of directors across the top 1,200 films from 2007 to 2018 were female, and only nine of these positions were filled with women of color,” Smith says. Research indicates that this would help the entire production be more diverse. “Narratives with female directors feature more girls and women on-screen, more racial and ethnic diversity, more female characters 40 years of age and older, and they are more likely to hire other women in key behind-the-camera positions,” says Smith.
Smith does believe “notable” change is in fact on the horizon. “Bob Iger shared via Twitter that 40% of Disney’s upcoming slate features female directors, and Universal, Paramount, Warner Bros, STX, and MGM are all on board with the #4percentchallenge,” she says. Smith is referring to the challenge issued by TIME’S UP and the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative for production companies to commit to announcing a project with one female director in the next 18 months.
For her part, Cox DiGiovanni says, “We will continue to evaluate our content and hiring record at Pearl Street, with the aid of the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, and make adjustments if we haven’t met our goals.”
Kotagal says that Hollywood also needs to address discrimination beyond hiring such as pay discrepancy and workplace harassment. “We also need to commit to measuring all these efforts to ensure change is actually happening,” Kotagal maintains. “And, lastly, the inclusion rider and other similar provisions must move beyond Hollywood and into other industries, including law, finance, tech, and more.”