Steps have been taken, but it doesn’t feel like we’ve gotten very far.
It feels like we’re asking the same question every year. Nominations are announced and all the major categories are dominated by white actors and male directors, despite widespread calls for change.
It’s gotten so glaringly bad, that even celebrities who typically never take a stand on these issues are speaking out.
“We find ourselves talking again about the need to do more to ensure diversity in the sector and the awards process,” Prince William, BAFTA president, said at this year’s ceremony. “That simply cannot be right in this day and age.”
. . .
To be fair, steps have been taken advocacy groups, filmmakers and festivals in recent years to improve inclusivity, but looking at the 2020 awards season it’s hard not to wonder if they’ve had any effect at all. Whatever happened to all that buzz around inclusion riders? What are film festivals doing to open the doors to more filmmakers? And WTF is up with awards-show voter demographics?
We asked some experts what’s going on behind the scenes, and it turns out that, even though awards season is still so white, Hollywood is making “some” legit strides. Here’s how.
What are they?
Two years ago, Frances McDormand won the Oscar for Best Actress and used her time at the mic to introduce viewers to two words: inclusion rider.
Created by Stacy L. Smith, who’s director of the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, Pearl Street Films’ Fanshen Cox DiGiovanni and civil rights and employment attorney Kalpana Kotagal, an inclusion rider is a legal tool that stipulates that films must include candidates from under-represented communities in the auditioning and the interviewing process for cast and crew. It can also be adapted for use to enhance inclusion in other industries.
Where are we now?
Following McDormand’s speech, Michael B. Jordan pledged to adopt the inclusion rider for all projects out of his production company, Outlier Society. As a result, Just Mercy, which recently hit theatres, became the first production to implement an inclusion rider. With MBJ’s encouragement, Warner Brothers, the studio behind Just Mercy, followed suit, becoming the first major studio to so. The independent film Hala, which was recently bought by Apple TV+, also implemented the policy, and as a result, Deadline reported, the production hired women for numerous leadership positions and for 75% of the critical below-the-line roles.
However, Kotagal says the inclusion rider’s impact goes beyond what we are seeing in the headlines. “It’s important to keep in mind that the inclusion rider is a contractual tool, and by virtue of that, it may not be the kind of thing that you see everywhere all the time,” says Kotagal. “That doesn’t change the fact that it is being implemented.” Since 2018, the lawyer says, she has worked on several inclusion riders for films, though she couldn’t give specific numbers due to confidentiality.
Simultaneously, creators from under-represented communities are making themselves more visible, combatting that lame and well-worn excuse that project executives want to be diverse but simply can’t find the candidates. Dozens of databases—such as the Topple List, a living Google spreadsheet of professionals from marginalized communities created in 2019 by Transparent’s Jill Soloway; the T List, which highlights trans individuals in the entertainment industry; and Free the Work, a database of under-represented creators—exist to help make it easy for execs to find talent from under-represented communities.
Kotagal says the strength of the inclusion rider is that it helped people see that productions do not have to choose between quality and diversity—a mentality that, as Stephen King’s Oscar tweet proved, still persists. (The famed author, who is member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and therefore able to vote for certain categories, revised his statement in a Washington Post essay acknowledging that the awards are “rigged in favour of the white folks” and that his tweet only applies in an ideal world).
Kotagal notes, however, that inclusion riders alone won’t revolutionize the industry. “Hollywood is a multifaceted problem in need of multifaceted solutions, and the inclusion rider can and should play a role, but it’s not the silver bullet,” she says.
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