March 14, 2018

Many people heard about “inclusion riders” for the first time in Frances McDormand’s speech when she won Best Actress in a Leading Role on Hollywood’s biggest night.

What are these riders, and will attorneys start adding them to contracts for people outside the entertainment industry? For answers to these and other questions, Bloomberg Law reached out to Kalpana Kotagal, partner with Cohen Milstein in Washington, who is one of the progenitors of inclusion riders.

Bloomberg Law: Can you describe the purpose and genesis of inclusion riders like the one mentioned by Frances McDormand at the Academy Awards? 

Kalpana Kotagal: The inclusion rider is an addendum to a leading actor’s contract that requires a process for ensuring minority representation in the audition and interview pools for a film or television project. It establishes objectives and tracking requirements for casting and hiring, creating a flexible mechanism for Hollywood’s most influential players to wield their star power and create opportunities for women, people of color, members of the LGBTQ community, and other underrepresented groups to enter the industry.

The idea of the inclusion rider grew out of multiple people approaching the problem from different perspectives. Anita Hill, who is a colleague of mine and of counsel at Cohen Milstein, first put me in touch with Stacy Smith, the Founder and Director of the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative at the University of Southern California. Stacy has been focused on issues of diversity, inclusion, and inequity in film and TV, as has Fanshen Cox DiGiovanni, the head of strategic outreach at Pearl Street Films. The three of us combined our skills to transform Stacy’s general concept for an inclusion rider into a detailed framework grounded in specific legal language with the goal that A-list celebrities, who have the power to change the entertainment industry’s status quo, can take it into studio negotiations to drive a fairer and more inclusive hiring process.

Bloomberg Law: Is there anything similar outside the contracts of movie stars, and have you been approached by others who want such riders in their employment agreements?

Kotagal: Unfortunately, there is currently nothing similar to the inclusion rider. Transforming the hiring process in Hollywood, while important, should be a launching pad for other industries to finally have discussions about inclusion provisions within their own employment procedures as the principles embodied in the rider are simply employment best practices and are applicable across industries. Furthermore, we need to dig deeper and think about workplace conditions that underrepresented groups are subjected to around the country. Only then can we effectively implement solutions that encourage and ensure diversity and inclusion. 

The complete interview can be accessed here.