Inclusion Riders

(Welcome to The Soapbox, the space where we get loud, feisty, political, and opinionated about anything and everything. In this edition: should inclusion riders be requirements for all Hollywood production companies?)

Frances McDormand’s Oscars speech raised Hollywood’s awareness of inclusion riders – contractual stipulations that basically demand racial and gender diversity for at least fifty percent of a project’s cast and crew. It’s only been a few weeks, but we’re already seeing companies adopt inclusion riders as their standard policy moving forward. That’s a good start in an industry which has been extremely slow (and has sometimes even refused) to react to social progress.

But as some companies actively embrace these changes, at least one major entertainment provider is shying away from them.

Clarification

For clarification, I’ve seen some folks get up in arms about inclusion riders because they think that these “diversity hires” are going to negatively impact a show or movie’s storyline. Forcing creatives to alter their plots or characters in order to meet a quota is ridiculous, they say. But that’s a fundamental misunderstanding of what an inclusion rider actually does. It’s not always about making casting changes for a project’s major roles. This excerpt from a 2014 Hollywood Reporter article explains it well:

“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.”

And remember, this is just as much about diversity and representation behind the scenes as well, an area that’s often been closed off to hard-working people thanks to systemic hiring practices that favor white men in crew roles. The entire point is for the movies and moviemaking process to better reflect our actual world in terms of racial and gender demographics.

Inclusion Riders 2

Recent Adopters of Inclusion Riders

After McDormand’s speech, I wrote about how her words served as a call to action to the people in Hollywood who are powerful enough to enact significant, measurable change in the entertainment industry. In the wake of her fiery call to action, Black Panther star Michael B. Jordan was one of the first to implement inclusion riders across all upcoming projects produced by his production company, Outlier Society:

Ben Affleck and Matt Damon‘s Pearl Street Films production company made a similar announcement a few days later. Fanshen Cox DiGiovanni, the head of strategic outreach at the company, responded to Jordan’s tweet with a statement of their own:

Bridesmaids and Ghostbusters director Paul Feig is the latest to jump on board, announcing yesterday morning that his production banner, Feigco Entertainment, will also be adopting inclusion riders:

netflix the big picture

The Opposition

When asked if Netflix had any interest in adopting inclusion riders for shows or movies they’re producing, CEO Reed Hastings said no. “We’re not so big on doing everything through agreements,” he told USA Today. “We’re trying to do things creatively.” According to the outlet, Hastings “would rather have his staff speak with the filmmakers about how many women and people of color are working on the project before shooting begins.”

Should Inclusion Riders Be Required?

As with so many things these days, it’d be easy to immediately be outraged by Hastings’ comments. Inclusion riders are a great idea, right? They make so much sense, and are a great way to quickly start changing things in Hollywood in a tangible way. But taking a step back and looking at what Netflix has done under Hastings’ reign, it seems like the company’s need to adopt inclusion riders isn’t as pressing as it is elsewhere.

Netflix is responsible for Orange is the New Black, a series that’s almost entirely driven by female actresses and storytellers behind the scenes. Again and again, they’ve put forth shows and movies with racially diverse casts (Marco Polo, Sense8, Narcos, The Get Down, Beasts of No Nation, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny, Okja, The Cloverfield Paradox) or led by women (The Crown, The OA, Gypsy, The Incredible Jessica James, Deidra & Laney Rob a Train, I Don’t Feel At Home in This World Anymore, Gerald’s Game). The entire second season of Jessica Jones was directed by female directors. The quality of those projects may vary, of course, but on sheer numbers alone, Netflix is comparatively looking pretty good in terms of representation.

Personally, I’d love to see sweeping changes made across the board in the industry. But since I’m not sure that’s realistic (see the aforementioned comment about Hollywood being slow to react to change), I think the best we can hope for right now is that the people and companies that need to adopt inclusion riders actually adopt them, and we’ll deal with everything else later.

Affleck and Damon’s Pearl Street is a perfect example of what I’m talking about: both of those guys have made some boneheaded mistakes when it comes to publicly interacting with or speaking about women in entertainment, so the idea that they’re seemingly self-aware enough to actually want to change the way they do business is a great sign. An easy first step would be for any company associated with anyone who’s been accused of sexual misconduct to step forward and adopt inclusion riders to prove that they’re serious about changing the world for the better.

Another person who should probably adopt inclusion riders in future projects? Silicon Valley‘s Mike Judge. Here’s what he said to THR in a recent cover story:

“There I was losing at the DGAs, and Amy Schumer makes this long speech about how [there are,] I don’t know, too many white males and all that, and saying that every show should be 50 percent people of color,” he says, with a trace of exasperation in his voice as he continues: “Well, if you’re doing a movie about Nazi Germany, you can’t do that. And if you’re doing a TV show about tech that’s satire, you can’t do it.” Judge has made his case before: If you’re going to make fun of this world and the way it is, you have to show the way it is. “I don’t think you do any service by pretending [Silicon Valley] is half female or half black,” he adds. “And not to pin bouquets on ourselves here, but I think we brought some attention to the gender imbalance by doing this show.”

I’m a fan of Judge’s work, but patting himself on the back for bringing attention to a well-established gender imbalance seems like the kind of tone-deaf reasoning that might be avoided if, say, a few more women were involved in the creation of the show.

Look, I’m certainly not trying to say that Netflix is beyond reproach. Word just came out that the streaming service paid Claire Foy, the star of The Crown, less than her co-star Matt Smith. That’s clearly not great, since, you know, she was the star of the show. For the record, the producers have promised that this will change in the future, saying “Going forward, no one gets paid more than the Queen.” But that doesn’t do anything to help Claire Foy, since the entirety of the cast is being recast while the next season of The Crown jumps forward a few years in time.

Plus, Netflix has historically not been too impressive regarding representation inside its own board rooms: USA Today says “African Americans only make up 4% of staff and leadership; Latinos comprise 6% of staff and 5% of leaders.”

There’s room for improvement for everyone, and while I hope we get to a place where every movie and TV project reflects our world (as much as is appropriate for each individual story), I just think we might be better off if we look at the track records of some of these companies before raising our torches and pitchforks.

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