Why We All Need an Education on Inclusion Riders

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In the last few years, The Oscars has been getting a lot of backlash for failing to recognize anyone outside of white males. With the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements still going strong and bringing more attention than ever on the mistreatment of women in the film industry, this year’s ceremony was largely focused on celebrating the talented but too few women nominated. Since this year’s 90th anniversary of The Oscars, two words have been given much-needed consideration in the past couple of weeks. Inclusion. Riders.

We have actress and two-time Oscar winner Frances McDormand to thank for shedding some light on this significant role during her acceptance speech for best actress. McDormand ended her memorable speech with these two words and if the clearly bewildered reaction from the audience afterward proves anything it’s that not nearly enough people know what they mean and how they stand to make the film world better.

Frances McDormand giving her acceptance speech for best actress at 2018 Academy Awards

On Twitter comedian and Two Broke Girls creator Whitney Cummings shares, “an inclusion rider is something actors put into their contracts to ensure gender and racial equality in hiring on movie sets. We should support this for a billion reasons, but if you can’t find a reason to, here’s one: it will make movies better.”

We should all take Cumming’s words to heart. Inclusion riders aren’t just something that impacts Hollywood’s elites but all of us who consider ourselves movie-lovers. Supporting the push for inclusion riders to have a role in the films we watch means not only ensuring opportunities for more minorities in film and other industries but seeing our world reflected that much more diversely and honestly.

To give you an even better idea of the significance of the inclusion rider and why we should encourage more actors to adopt them into their contracts here is a thorough summation of what they do and how actors can play an integral part in ensuring they are used for this purpose given by Sam Levin of The Guardian. He writes:

“The rider is designed to set objectives for inclusion on screen and behind the camera, specifying targets for underrepresented groups, including women, people of color, LGBT people and people with disabilities. The hope is that A-list actors could integrate the inclusion rider into contracts, which would help eliminate bias in the hiring and casting process and would produce films that more accurately reflect real-world diversity.”

While the list of actors and actresses who have publicly committed to adopting inclusion riders into their future contracts is growing there aren’t nearly as many stepping up to the plate as there should be. Actors Michael B. Jordan and Brie Larson were the first to step up and declare their commitment to include inclusion riders in their future projects immediately following McDormand’s speech. Ben Affleck and Matt Damon followed suit a couple of days later. Since The Oscars, which took place nearly a month ago, this is the bulk of the actors that have spoken up about using inclusion riders in their movie endeavors going forward. This is pretty disappointing considering how much implementing them into film productions could change the way films are cast and created for the better.

Stacy Smith, a communications professor at the University of Southern California, is responsible for coming up with the concept of the inclusion rider. During an interview with Vanity Fair, the professor lays out what the inclusion rider clause should enforce. She says,

“It stipulates that in small and supporting roles, characters should reflect the world we live in. That includes 50 percent gender parity, 40 percent inclusion for people of color, 5 percent L.G.B.T.Q., and 20 percent disabled.”

Stacy Smith Presents “The Data behind Hollywood’s sexism” for TedWomen 2016

Part of the reason that we love films so much and flock to theaters in order to absorb them is because of their ability to influence and reflect our culture, values, and beliefs. Needless to say, films have been better at reflecting certain parts of our culture as opposed to others. For those of us that belong to any of the groups that Smith mentions, it is apparent that most films have failed to “reflect the word that we live in.” Up until recently, films that accurately and equitably represent minorities have been far and few between. Despite recent blockbusters like Black Panther, The Shape of Water, and A Wrinkle in Time, the film industry still has a long way to go in terms of capturing the experience of all those that make up our many-faceted society.

Despite this, even those who couldn’t care less about films and who gets cast in them should care about the potential benefits that inclusion riders could bring to other fields of work.

According to The Guardian, Kalpana Kotagal, the civil rights lawyer behind creating the legal language for the inclusion rider clause states that “It could have tremendous reach. Pick your industry. Anywhere somebody has bargaining power; there is room to negotiate for better employment practices.” Kotogal believes that the benefits that come with utilizing inclusion riders not only benefits those in the film industry but other fields like “media, health care, financial services, and technology.” She also tells The Washington Post that she believes once the entertainment industry adopts the practices developed for the provision of inclusive riders, “it will embrace them as standard” and that “the same could happen in other industries.”

Civil Right Lawyer Kalpana Kotagal

Therefore, the idea of the inclusion rider goes far beyond Hollywood and how it stands to impact films. If more people were to support inclusion riders and the ethical practices that come along with them, it could not only assure better portrayals of the world we live in through the films we watch but eventually affect the dynamics of other industries where minorities may not have equal opportunities.

For now, while many of us seem to be intrigued by McDormand’s call to action it is apparently only that-intrigue. Despite the immense interest in learning what inclusion riders are and what they do, following McDormand’s speech, there isn’t nearly enough being said or done to make sure they actually have a bigger part to play in film productions. However, we know that change never happens as quickly as we would like it to and the fact that more people even know about this is arguably a big step in the right direction.

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