"I have two words to leave with you tonight, ladies and gentlemen: inclusion rider."
With that cryptic salvo from the stage at Sunday's Academy Awards ceremony, lead actress winner Frances McDormand sent much of Hollywood frantically Googling and speed-dialing their attorneys to figure out what exactly an "inclusion rider" is and what repercussions it could have at a time when studios are facing pressure to showcase more diverse casts in movies and TV shows.
The term trended on Twitter after the Oscars broadcast and was Merriam-Webster's most-searched term of the night. McDormand's words quickly elicited social media support from other prominent actresses including Brie Larson, who tweeted after the ceremony: "I'm committed to the Inclusion Rider. Who's with me?"
At its most basic level, an inclusion rider is a clause that a major star can negotiate into his or her contract to ensure that a certain number of women and minorities are considered for jobs on a movie or series. The concept has its root in the NFL's Rooney Rule, the 2003 policy that requires teams to consider minority candidates for head coaching and other managerial jobs.
The idea for the rider arose when Smith partnered with Kalpana Kotagal, an attorney at Cohen Milstein, and Fanshen Cox DiGiovanni, the head of strategic outreach at Pearl Street Films, the production company launched by Ben Affleck and Matt Damon.
"All of a sudden it became this opportunity to employ what I knew but from a policy perspective," Smith said.
The rider enumerates the underrepresented groups to be included in the interviewing and auditioning processes, though an actor can alter the language to suit his or her particular desires. The initiative specifically targets small speaking roles that don't interfere with the financing or the story arc of the movie, as well as certain technical personnel and crew.
Smith said the key to implementing the rider will be A-list stars who can use their professional leverage to persuade studios to act. The major talent agencies are also an important party for implementation.
"As with all things, this will take some time," said Kotagal of Cohen Milstein. "Our hope is that the inclusion rider could become a standard part of the negotiating of client rosters for the biggest agencies."
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