When Frances McDormand ended her epic Oscars thank you speech with the two words, “Inclusion rider,” I’ll admit I was one of millions of viewers who wasn’t sure what exactly she meant. It had the feel of “freedom riders,” and if so, I loved the ideas of finding strength in taking definitive action and of not quitting until the world becomes a better place.
An actual inclusion rider, it turns out, does not bring with it any of the extreme physical dangers faced by freedom riders, but does involve definitive action and implies a possible digging in until things get better. It’s a rider on a contract signed by a specific movie’s main stars that they will not do the movie unless and until there is equitable gender representation among the lesser roles and extras, presuming this fits the plot. So far, I haven’t found reference to an inclusion rider that specifically mentions race as well, but they very well could. And should.
We’ve seen moments in the movie industry where people have used their power to help create equity. “Emma Stone has revealed that her male co-stars have taken salary cuts in the past so that she could achieve equal pay.” (Nyren) But such instances are still relatively rare. During the reshooting of the film “All the Money in the World” in order to replace Kevin Spacey with Christopher Plummer following allegations of Spacey’s sexual misconduct, lead actor Mark Wahlberg got $1,500,000. Lead actress Michelle Williams got $80 per diem, less than $1000 all told. (Izadi)
Beyond inclusion riders, another critical part of the solution to the ongoing discrimination in Hollywood must be to promote female directors, especially women of colour. When women direct movies, women are better represented in all phases of the process. They are not just more likely to be protagonists or have speaking roles, they are also more likely to be cinematographers and composers - and, indeed, to participate in every phase of making the movie. Ava DuVernay, only the second Black woman ever to be invited to join the director's branch of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (IMDb), is using her voice not only to speak out firmly and unapologetically for herself but also to magnify the voices of others.
Awards shows like the Oscars and the Grammies reflect the blatant discrimination of their industries, both sexism and racism. While much of that discrimination is from the top down, the fact is that the movie-going public also has power. We can decide to pressure Hollywood to make more widespread use of inclusion riders. We can decide whether we want to view films made without them. We already know movies with more diverse casts actually do better at the box office. Whether or not appeals to simply do the right thing work (and, to be fair, they sometimes do), money talks.
I haven’t mentioned my students once during this blog, but as always, they are right there in the front of my mind. As women and as adult non-binary people, and/or as people of colour, and/or as may regard other aspects of their identities, they are bound to face discrimination. I don’t see our country solving the problems of patriarchy and white supremacy by May 2023, when the seventh graders graduate, never mind by May 25, 2018 at 10:30 in the morning (heartstring tug). But if we can tackle these issues in an industry that both gets a high level of attention and helps shape the cultural narratives we co-create in our society, it will help us make progress. And we must make progress.
With grateful thanks to Rafranz Davis, a leading voice among educators advocating for equity, for a post-Oscars conversation that helped shape the context for this blog.
- Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media
- Gender Inequality in Film - An Infographic, on the New York Film Academy blog
- Hollywood Has A Major Diversity Problem, USC Study Finds, by Eric Deggans
- Statistics - Women and Hollywood, from the website Women and Hollywood founded by Melissa Silverstein
- Study Finds Fewer Roles for Women in Hollywood, by Brent Lang