Closing The Gap

Oscar-winner Frances McDormand encourages actors to push for 'inclusion riders'—here's what that means

Frances McDormand excited and confused viewers of the 2018 Academy Awards on Sunday night when she abruptly concluded her impassioned acceptance speech for the Oscar for Best Actress with two words: "inclusion rider."

An inclusion rider is a clause in an actor's contract that requires that the cast and crew reflect the demographics of the world today.

For instance, a typical inclusion rider would require that a cast be 50 women, 40 percent people of color, 5 percent L.G.B.T.Q., and 20 percent disabled.

McDormand says that she herself only learned what an inclusion rider was last week. "You can ask for and/or demand at least 50 percent diversity in not only the casting but also the crew," she told the press following the ceremony. "The fact that I just learned that after 35 years of being in the film business — we're not going back."

The concept was developed by University of Southern California professor Stacy Smith, founder and director of the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative.

She tells The New York Times that inclusion riders also require "a good-faith effort to ensure representation in key areas behind the camera" and that "bias is corralled in the interviewing and hiring process."

Actor Frances McDormand at the 2018 Oscars
Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images
Actor Frances McDormand at the 2018 Oscars

Smith and researchers at the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative have analyzed hundreds of the top grossing movies and found that even though the gender of a lead character did not have any impact on the economic success of a movie, less than a third of all roles with at least one word of dialogue are given to women and girls.

Furthermore, when they analyzed films from the 1940s for comparison, they found that essentially no progress had been made in the intervening years.

Of the top 100 films of 2015, 48 had no black or African-American female characters, 70 had no Asian or Asian-American female characters and 93 had no lesbian, bisexual or transgender characters. Female characters were also three times more likely to be shown partially naked.

"This is not underrepresentation. This is erasure," says Smith in a 2017 Ted Talk. "What we see onscreen and what we see in the world, they do not match.

Inclusion riders may be part of the solution, she says: "The goal is that it could really change the entire ecosystem of what we see on screen in a short amount of time if it's adopted by enough actors, where they ask for this in their contracts," Smith tells the Washington Post.

"We're hoping agencies can ask every actor, 'Would you like an inclusion rider?'" she tells Vanity Fair. "If you get the Hollywood elite to adopt it in their contracts, it becomes baked in."

Dee Rees, director of "Mudbound," agrees. She tells Vanity Fair, "It's great to make it contractual, because that is what will change the business."

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