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raceAhead: Why Oscar Winner Frances McDormand’s Call For More Diversity May Actually Work

March 5, 2018, 6:09 PM UTC

Well, hooray (grudgingly) for Hollywood.

Though the entertainment industry remains deeply problematic in terms of actual representation — not to mention, the still barely addressed issues of systemic harassment — there were some notable moments at last night’s Academy Awards ceremony.

Here are just a few: Jordan Peele became the first African American to win the Best Original Screenplay Oscar for Get Out, and Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water won for Best Picture—a film featuring a female actor in the lead role hasn’t won the category since Million Dollar Baby in 2004. And there were tender moments that resonated, like when producer Darla Anderson thanked her wife, and writer Adrian Molina thanked his husband when they accepted the Best Animated Feature award for Coco, a beautiful film that celebrated Mexican culture.

While Jimmy Kimmel generally won the day for his willingness to elevate the issues of gender and racial equity, it was Frances McDormand who deserves the award for bringing a human resources toolkit to the podium with her.

McDormand won Best Actress for her role in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, playing a grief-stricken mother who challenges local law enforcement after they fail to find her daughter’s murderer. (For those who haven’t seen the film, fear not, that barely explains it.)

In her acceptance speech, McDormand first asked every other female nominee to stand, and then asked everyone else in the room to look around. “We all have stories to tell and projects that need financing.” She ended her speech by saying, “I have two words to leave with you tonight. Ladies and gentlemen: inclusion rider.”

Bless her heart, if Google searches for “inclusion rider” and related terms spiked some 5,000% since last night.

An inclusion rider is an addition to a legal contract that mandates more diversity, in this case, in the casting of a film so it better reflects the demographic diversity of the world we live in. But what it really is, is leverage.

The Annenberg Inclusion Initiative seized the moment. “For those of you asking about the #InclusionRider, it’s designed to ensure equitable hiring in supportive roles for women, POC, the LGBT community, & people w/disabilities,” they tweeted. “#DrStacySmith worked with @KalpanaKotagal to craft the language. Contact us to learn more.”

The concept of an inclusion rider was first suggested by Smith, the director of USC Annenberg’s Media, Diversity & Social Change Initiative, back in 2014. At the time, she called for an adaptation of the NFL’s Rooney Rule, which mandated a diverse slate for head coaching jobs.

At the time, Smith was only addressing the underrepresentation of women, who comprised less than a third of all speaking characters in the 100 top-grossing movies in the previous year. But, she posited, if every A-list performer insisted on an equity clause asking that speaking roles that would sensibly match the gender distribution of the film’s setting, it would make an immediate difference.

“If notable actors working across 25 top films in 2013 had made this change to their contracts, the proportion of balanced films (about half-female) would have jumped from 16 percent to 41 percent,” she says.

Her TEDWomen talk in 2016 is laudably more inclusive:

“Across the top 100 films of [2015], 48 films didn’t feature one black or African-American speaking character, not one. Seventy films were devoid of Asian or Asian-American speaking characters that were girls or women. None. Eighty-four films didn’t feature one female character that had a disability. And 93 were devoid of lesbian, bisexual or transgender female speaking characters. This is not underrepresentation. This is erasure, and I call this the epidemic of invisibility.”

While the Rooney Rule’s impact was mixed, we’ve seen others, like certain tech companies and law firms, adapt the rule to their own industries, some with a measure of success.

McDormand deserves real applause for her willingness to use her platform to offer a tool that everyone can use, at least in some form, even if you’re not Hollywood royalty. All you have to do is understand the power you already have and use it to the benefit of others.

We can all be Rooney rulers. Insisting on more diversity for the panels you sit on, the committees you chair and the teams you lead is probably not the diva move most people are expecting, but it helps the cause. And, you might even get those pesky brown M&Ms – a secretly smart demand made famous by the rock band Van Halen – out of your sight.


On Point

And the Oscar should go to the Best Lead Actor, periodMichael Bronski, a professor of the practice in activism and media studies of women, gender, and sexuality at Harvard University says it’s time to just get rid of the “best actress” category in entertainment awards all together. No other types of awards do it – like the MacArthurs or the Nobels, and the idea that men and women are treated and evaluated differently help underscore the very serious problems Hollywood has in its treatment of female talent. Besides, “It’s only a matter of time before a brilliant performer who eschews gender identity and restrictive pronouns is nominated for an Academy Award.”Fortune

How diverse are movies anyway?
The number crunchers at Buzzfeed have been working overtime, analyzing the words spoken by women and characters of color in Best Picture nominees from 2017, 2015 – after the #OscarsSoWhite movement launched, and 1989, when Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing, failed to make the cut but Driving Miss Daisy won. The tale of the tape: Diversity in film has improved, but only slightly. Things look better for women than actors of color of any gender, but it also makes a difference what the film is. In Lady Bird, 78% of the dialogue spoken is by women, which is a powerful improvement. But Driving Miss Daisy - a film in which the most frequently spoken words by black people were “yessum,” “dat,” and “miz,”- barely trails Get Out in the amount of dialog spoken by black performers.

Lunch is being served in Philando Castile’s name
Castile was a school nutrition supervisor in St. Paul, Minn. when he was shot and killed by police in July 2016. He seemed popular and kind and had often paid for meals when some low-income students couldn’t afford them. Now, a charity established in his name has raised more than $100,000, which will be used to wipe out meal-related debt for cash-strapped families. “That means that no parent of the 37,000 kids who eat meals at school need worry about how to pay that overdue debt,” says the group’s website. “Philando is STILL reaching into his pocket, and helping a kid out. One by one.”
Mother Jones

Gun injuries lower during NRA conventions
IThe Centers for Disease Control are prevented by Congress from studying gun-related health issues, so Anupam Jena, a health care researcher at Harvard Medical School, and Andrew Olenski, a Columbia University grad student in economics, have designed a clever-work around to help study the public health impact of guns. They examined private health insurance data from 2007-2015 and matched them with firearm injury rates during scheduled NRA conventions. Injury rates were, on average, 20% lower on meeting days. “We believe this is due to brief reductions in gun use during the dates of these meetings,” Jena says. “The main implication is that guns carry inherent risk even among individuals who we might consider to be skilled and experienced in the use of firearms.”  In 2015 the U.S. logged nearly 85,000 firearm injuries, of which 17,000 were unintentional.
Scientific American

The Woke Leader

Once social outcasts, the widows of Vrindavan now celebrate the coming of spring
Holi also known as the "festival of colors," is a Hindu festival celebrated all across India and other places with large Hindu populations. It's a joyous affair that celebrates the arrival of spring, the triumph of good, and involves a lface painting and lots of fun. But not always for everyone. About 1,000 widows living in the holy city of Vrindavan were considered “social outcasts” and barred from participating in the festival are now invited to celebrate. Click through for some glorious before and after photos.
The Guardian

Why did people join the Nazi Party the first time?
After Hitler was elected in 1933, American sociologist Theodore Abel became curious as to what motivated the 850,000 Nazi Party members to sign on. Unable to get even a single interview, he invented a “contest” that offered a cash prize to the person who wrote the most compelling reason why the Nazi Party appealed to them. He offered prize money totaling more than half a month’s average salary and even won Joseph Goebbels endorsement. Some 584 of these letters are now online and were written by a wide array of people. Many of the reasons will sound familiar – economic stability, an orientation to law and order, etc. - but themes of aggrievement are evident. "The Jews are our misfortune, that much is clear," wrote one. Others had been persuaded not to trust the mainstream news. “It was because Adolf Hitler and his party faced so much criticism and resistance among the press,” said another.

By overvaluing confidence, we’ve lost our way 
In a world that tends to overvalue the brash, confident and arrogant among us –and that embraces the egocentric bias - we’ve overlooked the power of intellectual humility, argues Jacob Burak, a culture writer. Intellectually humble people, he says, prefer truth over status, work hard to grow, and exhibit an openness to new ideas even when they conflict with their own. Here’s just one outcome of valuing confidence over humility: Online trolls thrive. 


For 200 years we have said to the Indian people who are fighting for their land, their life, their families and their right to be free: ''Lay down your arms, my friends, and then we will remain together. Only if you lay down your arms, my friends, can we then talk of peace and come to an agreement which will be good for you.'' When they laid down their arms, we murdered them. We lied to them. We cheated them out of their lands. We starved them into signing fraudulent agreements that we called treaties which we never kept. We turned them into beggars on a continent that gave life for as long as life can remember. 
Marlon Brando