“I have two words to leave you with tonight, ladies and gentlemen,” said Frances McDormand in her Oscars acceptance speech last year. “Inclusion rider.”
Just like that, the little-known industry term was instantly catapulted into the public sphere. Actors, directors and producers began tweeting their pledges to adopt the inclusion rider — an additional contract provision stipulating that a project's inclusion, onscreen and behind the scenes, reflect real-world demographics.
After lighting search engines and social media ablaze, can two words mentioned in an Oscars speech truly change the industry? One year later, the effect has largely been more symbolic than substantial. But major steps have been taken by its foremost champions.
After pledging on Instagram to support the addendum, Michael B. Jordan and his production company Outlier Society signed first-look deals with Amazon Studios and Warner Bros., which adopt the inclusion rider on all future projects (including Warner Bros.' legal drama "Just Mercy," out in 2020). He also teamed with WarnerMedia (the parent company of Warner Bros., HBO and Turner) in September to create a company-wide commitment to diversity.
Warner Bros.' Production Diversity Policy sees the studio pledging to ensure that diverse actors and crews are considered on all projects, and to work with directors and producers who actively increase diversity and inclusion across the industry. Likewise, an annual report "will not only show what we’ve accomplished, but where we can do better," said Kevin Tsujihara, Warner Bros. chairman and chief executive, in an email. "This accountability is important to our company and will keep our efforts on track.”
The team behind the idea would like to remind doubters that the inclusion rider merely asks productions or companies to actively engage in good-faith efforts to consider candidates from backgrounds often underrepresented in Hollywood.
"This isn't rocket science," Kalpana Kotagal, one of the rider's co-writers, told The Times. "These underlying principles are straightforward hiring practices for building better diversity in workplaces all over America: Slow down your hiring process; think about how to consciously build that deep and diverse pool of highly talented or highly qualified folks, and, then, go out and hire them."
Kotagal, a civil rights and employment attorney at Cohen Milstein, wrote the inclusion rider with Stacy L. Smith, founder and director of the data-driven Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, and Fanshen Cox DiGiovanni, head of strategic outreach at Matt Damon and Ben Affleck's production company, Pearl Street Films. The three women combined their areas of expertise in 2016 to establish a template for the provision, which can be adapted to implement the equitable casting and hiring of women, people of color, people with disabilities, members of LGBTQ communities, etc.
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And, hopefully, what happens in Hollywood does not simply stay in Hollywood. "This industry is a huge employer in itself, but it's also an influential one because it has a spillover effect," said Kotagal. "Movies and television shapes people's worldviews and narratives and norms. So fixing problems in Hollywood can potentially help to fix problems in other industries, in other parts of America and around the world."
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