Amid the keen struggle for an industry that better reflects the world we live in, Frances McDormand’s inclusion rider mic-drop at the Oscars will live long in the memory. It was needed. While movies such as Moonlight, Wonder Woman, Black Panther and A Quiet Place are pushing the envelope, research indicates that there was little year-on-year rise in inclusion in US films in the 10 years to 2016.
An inclusion rider is a concrete answer to that. The rider is a provision added to a contract of an actor to ensure that casting and production staff meet certain levels of diversity; for example, regarding the inclusion of women, people of color, LGBTQ people or people with disabilities. Soon after the Oscars, filmmakers Michael B. Jordan, Brie Larson, Paul Feig, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck committed to adopting it on all their future productions, while WME called for its adoption across its clients.
In the third in our series of interviews with women at the heart of industry change, we spoke to the architects of the inclusion rider, USC academic Stacy L. Smith, lawyer Kalpana Kotagal and actress, producer and advocate Fanshen Cox DiGiovanni, who have been working on it since 2016.
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Kalpana, how much work has gone into this from a legal perspective?
Kalpana Kotagal: It was a substantial amount. We had to craft this without creating quotas or reverse discrimination suits. We started working on this in the fall of 2016 and it took a year to come up with a solid template. We’ve made the template public so that studios, A-listers and producers can find it. With the advice of counsel there’s no reason this can’t be used widely by the industry. We’re on our way by virtue of WME taking this on. We understand discussions are underway at other agencies for them to take it on, too.
I’ve spoken to lawyers who still have concerns about its legality.
Kotagal: The two areas that people get concerned about are quotas and reverse discrimination. We’ve created a flexible framework whereby we have anticipated these concerns. The idea that advancing diversity and inclusion in the industry inherently brings us into conflict with anti-discrimination laws is a straw man. The employment law principles in the IR are best practice in many other industries.
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