This year’s trending Oscars buzzword wasn’t #OscarsSoWhite – instead, everyone was talking about the inclusion rider.
Frances McDormand ended her Best Actress acceptance speech at the Oscars with the term, referencing a provision actors and actresses can put in their contracts to stipulate specific representation standards for films that are proportionate to real-world population breakdowns.
The terms of an inclusion rider encompass several minority groups including women, people of color, members of the LGBTQ community and the disabled community. McDormand’s speech served as a rallying cry for representation in the film industry and was met with both acceptance and backlash. In my opinion, inclusion riders are a step in the right direction toward a more inclusive industry that actively promotes opportunities for underrepresented people.
As the film industry strives toward equal representation, it is important to consider not only what changes must be made, but also how they can be implemented throughout the industry. Solutions such as inclusion riders may not fix every aspect of underrepresentation, but they’re a concrete idea for an industry that sometimes lacks specificity in its dialogue surrounding diversity.
McDormand’s speech was praised by many who thought inclusion riders were a change Hollywood should embrace. Director Ava DuVernay also supported the idea, saying in an interview with The New York Times, “There are allies who are another color, who really walk the talk and we need allies who are not of color and that’s the only way things will change.”
Michael B. Jordan also became the first major Hollywood star to announce he would actually start using inclusion riders, saying March 7 that his company would adopt such provisions for all future projects.
It’s unclear which films in the past have actually used inclusion riders in their contracts. However, many female filmmakers and filmmakers of color have said they made it a point to include women and people of color in their stories. Director Dee Rees said in an interview with BuzzFeed that many people of color have been implementing practices similar to inclusion riders for a long time.
DuVernay’s career provides two examples of this. Director Ryan Coogler confirmed DuVernay mandated the inclusion of female directors and key creatives on her TV show “Queen Sugar” two full years before McDormand’s speech.
DuVernay also integrated a similar approach on her Martin Luther King Jr. biopic “Selma” – when she initially came onto the project, her first move was to rewrite the original script to make sure women were included in the story. Historically, women were an integral part of the civil rights movement, but the story was told in a way that did not highlight their efforts.
While unofficial inclusion riders may have benefitted marginalized communities in some cases, there is a certain danger in not having rules for diversity in print, particularly when the people in power don’t necessarily prioritize diversity. The most notable critic of inclusion riders was Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, who said in a recent press meeting with USA Today he would rather have filmmakers independently determine how many women and people of color they want on their project.
The fact of the matter is, Netflix has long been criticized for a lack of diversity behind the scenes. While the company features some diversity in their content – with shows such as “Dear White People” and “One Day at a Time” – their executive board is mostly white, and black and female comedians have historically been paid much less by Netflix than white male comedians. It’s hard to know exactly what the composition of Netflix sets looks like, but Hastings’ comments are frustrating because they lack a sense of commitment toward tangible change.
Vague platitudes like the one Hastings made are the reason Hollywood has not achieved much in the realm of diversity. UCLA’s first Hollywood Diversity Report came out in 2014, reporting vast underrepresentation. While many were dismayed with the widely reported findings, five years later, the 2018 report found very little change, particularly in film. Written requirements would be an incredibly effective way to ensure change and would work far better than leaving important decisions up to the whims of the people in charge – the majority of whom are white males and have less of a personal stake in diversifying Hollywood.
It’s easy to perceive the concept of an inclusion rider as a quota, stifling creativity by mandating diversity hires without merit. However, this notion that validates underrepresentation is predicated on the idea that there is a shortage of talented people within underrepresented demographics. The reality, however, is underrepresented groups are usually underrepresented because of a lack of opportunities, whether behind the camera or in front of it.
As Rees explained, “It’s making your sets look like the world, at a minimum. And it’s not just about tokenism, it’s about talent. That’s the exciting thing. People with the ability and the ambition can have opportunities that are commensurate with who they are.”
Fighting for representation often feels frustrating and impossible. But as more people join the industry and create tangible solutions like inclusion riders, I have hope that diversity and representation will be achievable. Eventually, the industry will have no choice but to slowly improve until it becomes a mirror of the diverse society we live in.