Frances McDormand confounded Oscar viewers when she mentioned “inclusion rider” in her Oscar acceptance speech in March. Has the contract provision taken flight in Hollywood?
It’s been almost exactly three months since Frances McDormand uttered the arcane legalese, “inclusion rider,” in her acceptance speech at the 90th Academy Awards. The term confused many in the audience—not to mention those watching at home—and shocked the hell out of the architect of the provision, U.S.C. professor Stacy L. Smith, who had been working tirelessly for years to design a clear protocol for improving the numbers of women and people of color in movies and television projects.
“I had no idea she knew about it,” Smith said in a recent interview about the standardized contract provision. Initially called an “equity rider,” as defined in a 2014 op-ed in The Hollywood Reporter, Smith suggested that A-list stars add a clause to their employment contracts demanding that “tertiary speaking characters match the gender distribution of the setting for the film, as long as it’s sensible to the plot.”
It remained a fairly obscure bit of Hollywood business for the past few years, but once McDormand spoke her words, the inclusion rider became national news. Stars such as Brie Larson, Michael B. Jordan, Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, and director Paul Feig quickly rallied behind it. Perhaps more importantly, WME C.E.O. Ari Emanuel adopted it for his entire company, asking his vast team of agents to support it by conveying the protocol’s benefits to the firm’s clients when discussing deal points.
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In 2014, Smith began crafting the framework as a method for stars to use their power to make the on-screen world look more like the real world. “We’ve found that actors and directors are typically the ones who care about diversity and inclusion the most,” she said. Since then, Smith has vetted her idea with such entertainment and civil-rights attorneys as Kalpana Kotagal at Cohen Milstein, and then worked with Fanshen Cox DiGiovanni, the head of strategic outreach at Affleck and Damon’s Pearl Street Films, to add in inclusive hiring-practice provisions for below-the-line talent. The result is an open-source template that lets entertainment lawyers and business-affairs executives add the language into contracts.
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