What Is an Inclusion Rider and Why Does Frances McDormand Think Hollywood Needs Them?

March 5, 2018, 11:02 AM UTC

Frances McDormand’s Best Actress acceptance speech at the Oscars on Sunday night had many clear messages about what she wanted Hollywood to do for women, and one cryptic one: “inclusion rider.”

After asking all the female Academy Award nominees in the audience to stand with her and imploring executives to fund their projects, McDormand said, “I have two words to leave with you tonight, ladies and gentlemen, inclusion rider.” Her words left many around the country—and even in the room—confused.

So what is an inclusion rider, and why does Frances McDormand think it can solve Hollywood’s problems?

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-86vgvZGMs4]


What is an inclusion rider?

An inclusion rider is a clause in an actor’s contract that allows him or her to make stipulations about how the movie is cast. The idea came out of a 2016 Ted Talk by Stacy Smith, founder of the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative at the University of Southern California and was initially outlined as a way to make minor roles reflective of the demography where a story takes place.

Female Oscar nominees stand in the audience as Frances McDormand delivers her Oscars speech.
McDormand asked all female Oscar nominees to stand during her Academy Awards acceptance speech. Ed Herrera ABC via Getty Images
Ed Herrera—ABC via Getty Images

How do inclusion riders work?

In Smith’s ideal scenario, talent agencies would ask leading actors and actresses whether they want the rider included in their contracts. A model clause was been drafted by Smith in conjunction with Kalpana Kotagal, a civil rights and employment lawyer in Washington, D.C. If an actress wants an inclusion rider in her contract, the casting of small and supporting roles have to meet certain quotas: gender parity, 40% of the cast would need to be people of color, 20% must be disabled, and 5% must be members of the LGBTQ community. If those targets are not met, the film distributor would have to pay a fine to a fund that supports women and minorities in Hollywood.

Why is Frances McDormand on board?

In an interview after the Oscars ceremony, McDormand said she had only heard of the inclusion rider last week after 35 years in the business. Meryl Streep likewise told reporters that clauses like the inclusion rider were something that her generation of actors didn’t know they could demand. McDormand rejected the idea that women and minorities were a “trending” issue, saying that rules have power and the potential to prompt permanent cultural change.

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