Actors are calling for industry-wide change. Attorney Kalpana Kotagal co-created the inclusion rider to help them demand it.
As the legendary Frances McDormand finished up her Best Actress acceptance speech at the Academy Awards, she said two words that sparked countless Google searches from viewers at home: “inclusion rider.”
An inclusion rider — also commonly called an equity clause — is a stipulation high-profile talent and executives can add to their contracts to demand a more equitable process for auditioning, casting talent, and hiring behind-the-camera jobs. Furthermore, actors and executives can use inclusion riders as a source of accountability by actually setting explicit, measurable goals. For example, they can demand that the number of marginalized people on screen — including roles for LGBTQ+ people, people of color and more — match their representation in the general population.
The concept of the Hollywood inclusion rider came from Dr. Stacy Smith, director of the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative at the University of Southern California. “While certainly actors have asked for inclusive hiring practices, this is a way for those asks to be stipulated in their contracts so that the requests become demands,” says Dr. Smith.
In a time when movements like #OscarsSoWhite, #MeToo, and #TimesUp are calling for structural change within Hollywood, inclusion riders can serve as powerful means of reforming the industry from within. When it came to creating and drafting the clause, Dr. Smith did not work alone. She partnered with Kalpana Kotagal, a civil rights and employment practice attorney in Washington, D.C. To learn more about how inclusion riders can improve queer representation and job prospects in Hollywood, them. spoke with Kotagal about strategies for implementing industry-wide change.
How has the response been to Frances McDormand calling on talent to use inclusion riders?
It’s been a crazy week for all of the best reasons. It’s wild to have this attention for a project we’ve been working on for such a long time, and to suddenly have its profile raised. Stacy [Smith] has been working on these issues for such a long time, and I come at this work as a litigator — as someone who has seen things go wrong in the workplace and has come in to diagnose problems, and help to fix them. So part of what’s been so thrilling about this is seeing the kind of energy building around meaningful change in the industry.
I don’t have to tell you that change is slow in Hollywood, so to have Frances McDormand calling it out the way she did is amazing. We hope it accelerates the rate of adoption [of inclusion riders].
How were you and Dr. Smith connected?
Anita Hill, who needs no further introduction, is counsel at Cohen Milstein [where I am a partner]. Anita introduced Stacy and I, knowing that I was a civil rights lawyer with a background in employment law and would have an idea about how to put something like this together.
Stacy, Fanshen Cox DiGiovanni (the third member of our trio), and I met in a conference room at USC in the Annenberg School in fall of 2016. We started talking about how the inclusion rider might work, and I got started with writing. Putting together legal language requires anticipating how it could be used, and how it would be critiqued. We went through multiple iterations to make sure we were putting together something viable, defensible, and compelling.
In your view, what is the state of LGBTQ+ inclusion in Hollywood?
There is clearly much more work to be done – both in terms of on-screen representation of LGBTQ characters and in terms of casting and hiring of LGBTQ actors and crew.
How can inclusion riders and equity clauses specifically be used to improve queer representation in Hollywood?
Building diverse, deep, and talented pools of candidates from which to make casting and hiring decisions, and creating meaningful benchmarks for casting and hiring – as the inclusion rider does – will benefit the queer community, as well as other historically underrepresented groups in Hollywood. Our inclusion rider explicitly focuses on the LGBTQ community among other underrepresented groups.
Before Frances McDormand made this speech, were a lot of people using inclusion riders? Had anyone specifically used it to advocate for LGBTQ+ hiring?
We knew about several people who were in the process of negotiating with studios. We expect it will really take off now. Our hope is that it will become the norm for hiring practices across the industry. There’s no reason these best practices can’t be implemented industry-wide. We have to honor the confidentiality of the process, of course, but we fully expect that LGBTQ representation will benefit from a wider use of the inclusion rider.
The complete interview can be accessed here.