The Oscars callout is leading to a real organizing effort, but studios may invite discrimination lawsuits if they prioritize gender and race in hiring decisions.
It might just be the most famous contract clause no one had ever heard of. When Frances McDormand uttered the words “inclusion rider” on the Oscar stage on March 4, the Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri star left viewers (and many in the industry) baffled.
The concept, however, is simple: stars — or anyone with leverage, such as showrunners and top movie directors — can negotiate a contract addendum, or rider, that commits a studio or producer to recruit and hire diverse actors and crew on a project. It’s the brainchild of USC professor Stacy Smith and Kalpana Kotagal, a civil rights employment attorney at Cohen Milstein.
“Movies fail to feature females, individuals from underrepresented racial/ethnic groups, the LGBTQ community, and people with disabilities,” says a summary they provided. “The Inclusion Rider is a solution.”
Smith first introduced the idea in a 2014 Hollywood Reporter guest column, but it lay mostly dormant until this year's Oscar night. The media scholar says she’s not aware of any actors having used the rider, and entertainment attorneys say they’re unfamiliar with it. “Seen none. Have none,” says a top talent lawyer.
Yet Smith and Kotagal aren’t sharing the clauses they’ve crafted. “The language is for attorneys, actors and content creators — we don't give it out,” says a colleague of Smith’s. “We want to avoid public negotiation,” says Kotagal, but the Washington-based attorney may also see secrecy as a ticket to Hollywood legal work. “Civil rights lawyers have a right to make money,” she notes.
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