If you watched this year’s Oscars all the way until best actress was announced, you may have come away scratching your head. “I have two words to leave you with tonight,” Frances McDormand, who won the category for her role in Two Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, said in her speech: “Inclusion. Rider.”
Inclusion riders are brand new and haven’t been widely adopted yet. The idea piggybacks off of the often banal riders that Hollywood stars or their agents insert into their contracts; many actors already request things like a certain number of assistants or fresh flowers in their trailers every day in return for signing on to a movie or show, although some address compensation and other important terms. An inclusion rider uses the same vehicle for something entirely different: It requires an inclusive hiring practice for the project that brings on women, people of color, LGBT people, those with disabilities, and others from marginalized groups. It envisions demanding diversity not just in the on-screen hires, but for the off-screen crew as well.
Inclusion riders had been in the works for over a year before the Oscars. It’s accepted by many now, even by those in Hollywood itself, that the industry needs to get less white and less male, and fast. Discussion of how white and male Hollywood is—including the hashtag #Oscarssowhite, among other things—are nothing new, and yet little has changed. People of color still make up about 14 percent of film leads and less than 13 percent of directors, while women are less than a third of film leads and barely seven percent of directors. “No matter how much the leadership at the top of the industry says it’s committed to more diverse representation and more diverse storytelling, that hasn’t actually manifested,” said Kalpana Kotagal, a partner at law firm Cohen Milstein.
But about 18 months ago, Anita Hill—yes, the Anita Hill, who testified, in 1991, that she’d been sexually harassed by Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and who is now of counsel at Kotagal’s law firm—introduced Kotagal to Stacy Smith, the founder of the Annenberg Inclusions Initiative at the University of Southern California, in the hopes that the two could come up with a solution. They met with a third “partner in crime,” as Kotagal calls her: Fanshen Cox DiGiovanni, an actor and producer who is Head of Strategic Outreach at Pearl Street Films, a production company founded by Matt Damon and Ben Affleck (whose own records in this arena have been less than stellar), about a week before the 2016 presidential election to talk about fixing the lack of diversity in Hollywood.
The three of them discussed existing structures that have been used to try to increase diversity, such as the Rooney Rule, a policy implemented by the NFL in 2003 that requires teams to interview minority candidates for head coach and general manager positions. But they worried about the pitfalls of something that could be seen as an inflexible quota or “reverse discrimination” against men and white people. Instead, they came up with “this idea of relying on those who already have the power in the industry to help drive change [and] developing it in a contractual form,” Kotagal said. Thus the inclusion rider was born. “Having addendums to contracts or riders to contracts, that is not an unusual concept,” she said, but “the idea of developing a contractual provision to use the existing power structures of an industry to help drive change in that industry—I think that dimension of the inclusion rider is absolutely a new concept.”
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