Cohen Milstein’s Kalpana Kotagal Co-Authors OpEd for Refinery 29, “We Created Hollywood’s New Inclusion Rider — Here’s Why It’s Just the Beginning”
OpEd Co-Authored by Kalpana Kotagal, Partner, Cohen Milstein and Fanshen Cox, Head of Strategic Outreach, Pearl Street Films
Fanshen Cox and Kalpana Kotagal co-authored the Inclusion Rider. Cox is the head of strategic outreach at Pearl Street Films and co-host of the Webby nominated podcast Sista Brunch. Kotagal is a partner at national civil rights law firm Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll.
As Frances McDormand accepted another Academy Award this year, it gave us flashbacks to the last time she was on the Oscars stage. In 2018, when McDormand won Best Actress for her role in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, she gave an unexpected endorsement of the Inclusion Rider — a moment we, as the Inclusion Rider co-authors, thought could never be beat for us professionally.
We had been developing the Rider since the Fall of 2016 after a meeting in a conference room at Pearl Street Films in Santa Monica. Growing up as Black and Brown girls, we experienced othering, erasure, and questions about where we and our families were “from.” This was compounded by the fact that our families were virtually invisible in the media and entertainment we consumed. When we did see images of Black and Brown people, they were mired in the limitations of harmful stereotypes. We knew change was essential, and we knew that people in positions of power should contribute to this change.
Shortly after the meeting at Pearl Street, we began our work on the legal template that McDormand would eventually mention that night at the Oscars. Once she did, major talent like Paul Feig and Brie Larson announced they would adopt the Rider. Endeavor Content used the principles of the Rider in several of its productions. It was all the most incredible roller coaster ride for us. And we have been pushing Hollywood and other industries to adopt this template ever since, with myriad lessons learned along the way.
People in entertainment ask for riders to be added to their contracts all the time. It’s basically an addendum to the contract asking for certain provisions. Someone might ask for certain food on set. Others might ask for cruelty-free makeup for the cast. The Inclusion Rider asks for the production to consider diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility in its hiring practices. It is a flexible template that can be tailored to fit the various ways that productions differ, from locations and storylines to budget and size of production, for example. Although it’s flexible, there are four essential elements for successful use of the Rider: 1) deepen and diversify hiring pools, 2) set benchmarks for improving diversity of representation through hiring qualified people, 3) collect, measure and report data about representation, and 4) adopt accountability measures that contribute to improving representation moving forward.
We’ve now been working and reworking the Inclusion Rider for almost five years, creating an accessible template that will hold Hollywood’s biggest names accountable to turning empty words into systemic action. As women of color in law and entertainment, we know firsthand that speaking out against discrimination and injustices is not enough. That’s why this new iteration of the Rider Template incorporates additional tools for hiring crew from underrepresented backgrounds, and adds accountability measures and advocates for intersectional inclusivity, including gender, race and ethnicity, LGBTQIA, age, and disability considerations.
Since the powerful uprisings for George Floyd and Breonna Taylor last summer, we’ve received renewed interest in and outreach about the Rider. We also learned that Dr. Tasmin Plater, Head of Human Resources at Endeavor Content, had not only used the Rider for productions, but was developing a policy guide for company-wide use. The three of us were brought together by Color Of Change’s #ChangeHollywood and for the last several months have combined our efforts to create the toolkit we are now sharing publicly for anyone to use at inclusionrider.org. This toolkit includes an updated Inclusion Rider for individuals, a new Inclusion Rider Policy for production companies and studios to adopt, and a package of building materials with templates, FAQs and a consistently updating list of hiring resources.
We are grateful for the ways that early adopters like Michael B. Jordan’s Outlier Society have helped to spur progress. Their advocacy played a critical role in facilitating the systemic change that was always part of our ultimate plans for the Rider. And now with this updated version, companies and studios themselves are incorporating these principles into their hiring practices. Major entertainment companies, including AMC Studios, Scott Budnick’s One Community, Forest Whitaker’s Significant Productions, and Stephanie Allain’s HomeGrown Pictures, have already committed to using the Rider.
The complete OpEd can be accessed here.