Frances McDormand swept the award season with her fourth major win for Best Actress in a Leading Role, and then swept the world off its feet with two words: Inclusion Rider. A spike in Google searches is evidence that many had no idea what that meant, but as the internet goes there are already as many crying foul as there are excited by the prospect.
For those who haven’t searched it out yet, the inclusion rider essentially refers to a clause in one’s contract that would stipulate a cast and crew that reflects the world we live in. For the sake of visualization, that’s generally 50% female, 40% minority groups, 20% living with a disability and 5% from the LGBTTQQIAAP community, give or take. Dr. Stacy Smith brought the concept to the forefront in a TED talk back in late 2016. Don’t worry if you had no idea – neither did Frances. In the press room following her acceptance speech, she mentioned having only just heard about it after 35 years in the industry.
This is exciting news for those who feel underrepresented in Hollywood. It’s a call to action from the top(ish) down for inclusion. Of course, some feel that there is a big danger with this kind of thing. That somehow the idea of inclusion limits creative control or stops “the best and brightest” from achieving in the name of social justice.
Here’s why they’re wrong.
First and foremost, this doesn’t have to reflect entirely, or even predominantly, onscreen. I’ve already read plenty of comments that this kind of thing will limit storyteller’s creative license. Though the ideal would be to do so, there are plenty of situations where the story itself limits the representation of certain demographics. I don’t think anyone is truly angry that “Dunkirk” or “Darkest Hour” has fewer than 50 percent of the cast being women. Those stories and settings are particular to what will be reflected in the casting. A movie like “Black Panther,” while not based on any real place or people, has a clear narratively-driven reason to double-down on a particular racial background, and it’s impactful because of that, not despite it.
There is also a massive group of people working behind the cameras and in post-production. Inclusion here is just as important as anything else. We just had the first Academy-recognized female cinematographer. I get where people want to express the idea that “the best have been recognized in the past, and this is just the first time a woman has been considered.” I call bull. There’s no world in which I believe one gender inherently has a more critical eye than another. And if I did, I would likely lean toward that being the female sex anyway. There are studies that show women see colour better than men anyway. That’s got to be an advantage. No – the reason we’ve seen men dominate many production jobs is that those roles have always just been awarded to men. It’s a holdover from another time. There just hasn’t been enough time for equality to have naturally occurred yet. It needs this kind of push. There are plenty of capable women, people of various ethnic backgrounds, LGBT community members, and those living with a disability who have yet to find a pathway as straightforward as a white man. That’s just a fact.
This shouldn’t be a threat to anyone. This shouldn’t even be something that needs to be said. Eventually, it won’t have to be a specific measure taken at all – it will just be. It’s easy to not consider the impact this has on people, but it’s massive. The status quo is due for a shift, and this shift looks to incorporate everyone. There is a long journey ahead, but it’s a speech like Frances McDormand’s, one from a very public podium, that will get the ball rolling for future generations, near and far. Sometimes it’s easy to dismiss how impactful it can be to see yourself represented on a grand forum like that. It’s been “The American Dream” for white men for generations because it could be visualized. Yesterday I teared up at an Oscar acceptance speech for the first time when Jordan Peele accepted his award. That was the first moment where I saw me on that stage. The first time I felt I was fully represented, and that I could be up there too if I worked for it. It’s time that everyone has that feeling. This is what is truly achieved with a movement such as Frances is championing. Unfortunately, it’s not just a talent thing, but also a numbers game – and we need to see those numbers get higher.