Frances McDormand inclusion rider

Talk is cheap, but Frances McDormand may have just changed the game in Hollywood with two simple words at last night’s Oscars ceremony. After winning the Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, the actress wrapped up her memorable speech with two words: “Inclusion rider.”

Read on for how that Frances McDormand inclusion rider comment could spark actual, measurable change in Hollywood in the years to come.

What is a Rider?

A rider is an attachment or an amendment to a contract that adds an additional aspect to the document. You may have heard of the famous rider that rock band Van Halen added to their contract in 1982 which demanded that all brown M&Ms be removed from the samples in their dressing rooms. Such detailed riders like this can often appear to be absurd (and sometimes they are), but there’s a safety component at play as well: if the band noticed a brown M&M, that meant the venue organizers likely didn’t read the contract close enough. And if they missed the stipulation about M&Ms, they may also have missed important information about lighting, security, or other parts of the stage show that could make the concert unsafe if not properly followed.

So What is an Inclusion Rider?

“I have two words to leave with you tonight, ladies and gentlemen: inclusion rider,” McDormand said before leaving the Dolby Theater stage last night. At a backstage press conference, the actress was asked to elaborate about what exactly that comment meant:

How Those Two Words Could Change Hollywood

I saw some people on Twitter last night ragging on McDormand for making these comments about inclusion when one of Three Billboards‘ biggest failings is the way it handles that very thing. But I’m willing to give her the benefit of the doubt; as she said in that video, she’s been acting for thirty-five years and is only now finding out about inclusion riders. Imagine how many other hundreds or thousands of people now know about them thanks to her using her platform to spread that knowledge.

If there’s one thing Hollywood is good at, it’s talking. With so many events, red carpets, and interview opportunities, it seems entertainers are in a near-constant state of discussion about the industry and what can be done to fix some of its most glaring problems. But even something as important as Time’s Up took some time to organize. How can the slow-moving gears of Hollywood possibly be expected to combat something as huge and far-reaching as implicit biases in a timely and effective manner?

Inclusion riders just might be the answer. This piece from The Hollywood Reporter spells out what the practical effects might look like:

What if A-list actors amended every contract with an equity rider? The clause would state that tertiary speaking characters should match the gender distribution of the setting for the film, as long as it’s sensible for the plot. If notable actors working across 25 top films in 2013 had made this change to their contracts, the proportion of balanced films (about half-female) would have jumped from 16 percent to 41 percent. Imagine the possibilities if a few actors exercised their power contractually on behalf of women and girls. It wouldn’t necessarily mean more lead roles for females, but it would create a diverse onscreen demography reflecting a population comprised of 50 percent women and girls.

And it doesn’t just affect women – there could be riders put in place to increase representation of minorities, the disabled, and more. The point is for the movies to more accurately reflect the world we live in, both in front of and behind the camera.

Predictably, there are already people who have come out against this notion, trotting out an argument about how the best person for the job should be the one who’s hired, not someone who just ticks off a box to meet a mandated quota. But here’s the thing: what those people are saying, whether they know it or not, is for the status quo to be upheld. I don’t have the hard data in front of me, but I’d bet my life that white men are hired more frequently than any other demographic in the film industry. Inclusion riders could break down the door for more diverse groups of people to get into all aspects of making movies. As Kumail Nanjiani said in the Oscars video montage last night, that’s not only good for society, it’s good for business.

There are those who still don’t understand that representation matters and is one of the most important issues Hollywood faces today. But all you have to do is look at the reaction to films like Wonder Woman, Coco, and Black Panther to see how much it means to underrepresented segments of society to see themselves reflected on screen. If you’re angry about the idea of inclusion riders influencing hiring decisions in Hollywood, watch the viral videos of young kids dancing with glee when they found out they’d be seeing Black Panther. Look at photos of little girls staring up in awe at cardboard standees of Gal Gadot‘s Diana in movie theater lobbies. And read the letters the Coco team received from audiences who took their elderly parents to see the movie, only for the parents to break down in tears at the way the film depicted their culture on screen in such a rare way. These things matter, and Frances McDormand may have just given Hollywood A-listers the ammunition they need to finally be able to put their money where their mouth is.

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