March 05, 2018

Kalpana Kotagal, one of the lawyers behind the inclusion rider, wasn’t awake to see the project she’d been laboring on for months become a trending topic on social media.

The initiative got a high-profile plug during the Oscar broadcast on Sunday when best actress winner Frances McDormand urged viewers and the assembled Hollywood luminaries to embrace a legal effort to push for greater on-screen diversity. That’s good news for Kotagal and the other lawyers and advocates who have been taking meetings at talent agencies and studios to help popularize the concept. The only downside was McDormand’s speech came toward the end of a nearly four-hour broadcast.

“I had literally just turned off the television,” said Kotagal. “I have little kids, and I have to be up early. I was being responsible so I could get to bed at the time I’m supposed to go to sleep. When I picked up my phone the next morning, I had all these messages.”

Kotagal, an attorney at Cohen Milstein, is hopeful that McDormand’s plug will help popularize the initiative. The inclusion rider is language that actors, producers, and directors can bake into their contracts, asking that their projects make a concerted effort to cast minorities, LGBTQ actors, and women in supporting and background roles. They can also ask for more diversity in below-the-line positions.

“The thinking behind this tool is to ask those who have power in the industry, which is primarily straight white men, to use their bargaining power in negotiations with studios,” said Kotagal. “We want them to use their influence.”

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