The Oscar-winning actress executed her own “The More You Know” moment at the awards last night. Here’s hoping it starts a fire.
On Sunday night, Frances McDormand dropped some major knowledge at the Oscars about inclusion riders and the fight for diversity. Up on stage to accept her Best Actress award, she heralded a call to action and a bonafide awareness bomb. First, she had all the women nominees in the theater stand. While everyone applauded them, she pointed out to all the producers and studio heads in attendance that every single one of the women standing would have a project they’d like to move forward. So, schedule a meeting. In an office. Like you would with a business partner. It was an undeniably badass move.
She ended her speech on what seemed like a puzzling note for many folks.
“I have two words to leave you with tonight, ladies and gentlemen: inclusion rider.”
Just what the heck is an inclusion rider?
During her press Q&A after her win, McDormand answered several questions about that phrase. To her, it’s the revelation that people have always had an option when negotiating performance contracts to attach an inclusion rider. Basically, “you can ask for and/or demand at least 50% diversity in not only the casting but also the crew.”
Okay, but how much change could this really evoke? At most, it would change some background characters to reflect real word demographics and expand diversity on the crew. On one production. Right? Incorrect.
Dr. Stacy Smith, Director of the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative gave a TED Talk in 2016 which dug into an estimation. “Did you know if we looked at the top 100 films next year and simply added five female speaking characters on-screen to each of those films, it would create a new norm. If we were to do this for three contiguous years, we would be at gender parity for the first time in over a half of a century.”
Small changes, enactable by direct action within the control of the very people who are currently using their voices to call for change, could sway representation in a huge way.
Folks, who either knew about the idea or googled and caught up with it, started to chime in with some positive takes on Twitter.
It is a shocking moment to take a step back and realize that it is within the grasp of passionate people to make satisfiable demands to broaden the diversity of a production.
McDormand shared two other words of note backstage: power and rules.
That’s where it gets interesting. No one really has a problem with popular advocacy for societal issues we need to work together to resolve. The #MeToo and #TimesUp awareness campaigns have been very successful in keeping sexism and harassment and misogyny and racism in the news. As a culture, we’ve got the attention span of a goldfish. And, while on average we would like to make things better, headlines and popular interest fade.
Activism is essential for maintaining a level of popular interest. But, popular interest alone won’t be able to solve these problems. It takes people willing to work to break down barriers and build new environments to operate. McDormand isn’t the first person to suggest the inclusion rider (that was Dr. Smith), but perhaps at this moment, the idea will catch enough traction to translate popular attention into concrete action.
Rules and power. Knowledge and exploitation of the rules to assert your desires on a production are fundamentally essential. If A-listers turn the hashtag activism into meaty demands of equality in their contracts, perhaps this will start to turn the tide.
I wrote about Dee Rees’s speech at the Film Independent Spirit Awards and how frustrating it must be to feel compelled to use her moment of recognition to speak to a problem which should never have existed in the first place. Lakeith Stanfield said it more directly than I possibly could.
After her speech, a reporter asked Rees a question about what she felt her victory might do for young women. Her response was that she hoped more that it would influence young men. Rees hoped they would see a successful, strong, brilliant woman leading a successful creative project and not be so inclined to buy into the lies of systemic sexism.
The action needs to be on more than just women, African Americans, or the LGBTQ community to address the system that is failing them. Straight white men made a system with rules that benefitted them, and it’s up to them to write new ones. McDormand has laid out the path. Where are my A-List male celebrities at getting ready to walk the inclusion riders walk? Let us see your inclusion riders.