I leave you with two words… Inclusion Rider

The term Inclusion Rider was first introduced by Stacy Smith, an Assistant Professor of Communication at the University of Southern California, as part of the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative. It was popularised at the 2018 Academy Awards ceremony with Frances McDormand’s concluding remarks in her acceptance speech, “I have two words to leave you with ladies and gentlemen, Inclusion Rider.” Hollywood and everyone around the world who watched the 2018 Academy Awards ceremony was equally puzzled by the closing lines of Frances McDormand’s speech. There was even a quick surge in the number of google searches for this term as this concept was still alien to the world. Hollywood was going through a cultural awakening post popular campaigns such as “#MeToo”, “Times Up,” and the infamous exposition of Harvey Weinstein’s sexual assault allegations. Hollywood needed a structural change in creating a space more sensitive towards certain sections of the demography that have historically been underrepresented in cinema and ancillary branches of the entertainment industry. The idea of creating a legally binding solution to this was seen with much reluctance in the industry. This article focuses on introducing the concept of an inclusion rider in the backdrop of the American entertainment industry and how it could be applicable in film industries around the globe.

What is an “Inclusion Rider” ?

An inclusion rider could be defined as a clause or provision in the contract of an actor or a filmmaker to ensure maintaining a certain level of diversity among the cast and crew. The rider involves people in authority and those with bargaining powers to use their influence to include a legal solution for ensuring a diverse cast. According to Stacy Smith, “An inclusion rider implemented by an A-lister in their contract can stipulate that those roles reflect the world in which we actually live.” The concept for the rider was first presented in an op-ed published by the Hollywood reporter in 2014, where Stacy Smith called for a “Rooney Rule” in the industry. The Rooney Rule is for organizations in the NFL (National Football League), which states that at least one woman or underrepresented minority has to be interviewed for vacancies in normal or senior positions. This is exactly the solution Stacy Smith wants to model for the entertainment industry through an inclusion rider. Stacy Smith constructed the language for a diversity rider along with Kalpana Kotagal, an attorney, and Fanshen Cox, president at TruJuLo Productions. Smith has always been at the forefront of campaigns such as the “4 percent challenge”, an initiative issued by the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative for hiring female directors. The challenge was accepted by many actors, directors, and studio executives who pledged to hire and work in projects helmed by female feature film directors.

The United States of America does not have a constitutional provision that supports quota reservations or affirmative action. Affirmative action is banned in most of the states in America. Therefore, it is up to individual organizations or professional bodies to create policies to induct members of diverse backgrounds. The debate around affirmative action has been pertaining for a long time in the USA, and the issue of creating a fair amount of diversity in multiple fields has been a hefty and complex process. Certain institutions have taken the conscious decision to improve the representation of minorities in the country. Hollywood has always suffered from the issue of lead actors representing the majority community. Even non-essential characters or extras would usually stick to stereotypical gender categories. Improved awareness in showbiz has increased opportunities for women and underrepresented minorities on screen. However, the situation behind the scenes has seen very little improvement, according to UCLA’s “Hollywood Diversity Report – 2020”.

The legality of inducing more diversity into American society has been debated at length during the discourse following affirmative action in universities. The Inclusion rider would face the same constitutional challenges. There is also the challenge of truly determining if the production has reached a certain level of diversity. The information about the language used in this rider has still not been published for the public. Therefore there is a lack of information to judge or assess the legal language used in the rider or the tangible calculation of the level of diversity it wishes to maintain. The need for an inclusion rider or a legally accountable rule on productions has far-reaching benefits for the industry and minority or underrepresented fractions of society.

How does an “Inclusion Rider”  work ?

There is often the argument against the need for inclusion rider or affirmative action in an artistic space. Some believe that forced hiring may not change the attitudes within the industry and may even create more animosity against the minority communities. However, more inclusion of women and minority groups could help turn their socio-economic situations and stature in the economy. Let us take a look at how an inclusion rider would influence casting decisions.

In film production, there are speaking and non-speaking roles. If the production takes a deliberate decision to add women or members from communities of diverse colour or ethnicity, it will increase employment opportunities in the industry for them. As Hollywood has a minimum basic pay policy, it is a beginning for the diverse cast and crew members to establish a precedence of being employed on productions. Their casting in roles that would conventionally be portrayed by men or members of the majority population can help break stereotypes, and this would also be the beginning of a cultural shift in mainstream media to become more inclusive. In turn, the media can play a role in influencing the society at large about further cultural integration and create an improved inclusive space.

Current Status 

Just Mercy, starring Michael B Jordan and Brie Larson, was one of the first films with an inclusion rider which assured 70% diversity in on and behind the screencast and crew. Michael B Jordan has pledged to use the Inclusion Rider in his future contracts for films. In the case of Just Mercy, Michael B Jordan’s production house “Outlier Society Productions” 

was partnering with Warner Media to produce the film. They created a system wherein both production houses could meet at a common ground to implement a diversity rider. Like Michael B Jordan, many celebrities like Matt Damon and Ben Affleck have supported using inclusion riders in their respective film contracts. Even large award ceremonies have backed the use of an Inclusion Rider. The Recording Academy stated that the 64th Grammy Awards would be produced with an Inclusion Rider to ensure fairer inclusion of those from underrepresented backgrounds. As the idea of an inclusion rider is at its infant stages, it will be interesting to see its future use and implementations on further productions and other forms of media.

Arjun Sujit Varma is an undergraduate student at the Jindal School of Government and Public Policy with a keen interest in Political Science and Macroeconomics.

Image Credits: https://www.gq.com/story/oscars-2018-what-is-an-inclusion-rider

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