When Frances McDormand told the audience of the 90th Academy Awards that she had two words for them, close to no one would have predicted those words were “inclusion rider.” McDormand immediately got the industry and internet buzzing with this legal term for how people in Hollywood can ensure the inclusion of underrepresented groups while searching for talent in their upcoming projects.
The rider was created in 2016 by attorney Kalpana Kotagal along with Stacy Smith from the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative. Together – with a little bump from McDormand – they may have changed the future of Hollywood.
Mashable spoke to Kotagal via phone the day after the Oscars, one of her busiest days on the job – but she was hardly complaining.
What exactly is the inclusion rider?
The idea here is that we – working with Stacy Smith at the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, I developed contract language that an A-lister, a movie star, could take into negotiations with a studio to star in a particular product or a particular production and the idea is that it would help to guide a set of best practices around hiring and casting on screen and off-screen that would ensure a more diverse production from top to bottom. So that’s the idea; it allows those who already have the kind of bargaining power and market power in the industry to say, ‘Look, we want to be part of the solution’ and one of the ways that we’re going to drive the kind of change we want to see in the industry is to insist that the projects that we work on are truly reflective of the world we live in.
And this was only developed in the past few years, is that correct?
Yup! Less than that. We started working together on this the fall of 2016. And obviously the language takes some time to write and develop, and we’ve been working sort of to educate folks in the industry for the last several months. And then ta-da! Frances McDormand with a huge, huge mention on the issue last night, and we’re thrilled. We’re really thrilled.
How did that feel? It’s such a specific legal term that she called out very pointedly.
Can I tell you honestly? I had literally just gone to sleep. I had just turned off the television, and after watching hours and hours and being inspired by so many speeches and performances last night that really identified and tapped into the same kinds of issues and themes that we’ve been working on. I wake up very early in the morning, I have two little kids – I woke up early and pick up my phone cause I already know I’ve got a busy day, and my email has just like, exploded. So I had to go back and find Frances McDormand’s speech! I missed it in prime time last night, which is so crazy.
But how did it feel? I mean, picking up my phone this morning and seeing what happened was overwhelming and thrilling and really exciting. And in my mind as somebody who litigates around these issues, I see workplaces where things have really gone wrong. I sort of come in and work to clean up messes after the fact. One of the things that has been, that was so special about this, was that these women who have been so brave in calling out the failures in their own industry, in their refusal to take no for an answer… to have my work be part of a recognized solution to those problems is – I’m deeply grateful for that.
How did this come to your attention? What prompted you to think ‘We need a name for this, we need to include this?’
The thing about Hollywood is that you get hired again and again, project by project; film by film, TV show by TV show. So actors and crew members encounter this same set of problems again and again and again and again and again over the course of a career, or even over the course of a year. And so it felt like we needed to figure out how to create a set of solutions that kind of fit the flow of work in that industry. It’s different than other industries that way; you don’t get hired – in some cases maybe you do, but you don’t get hired and then you work for that same company as an actor or crew member for the next 25 years. We needed to address that repeat problem. And that’s how we came up with this idea.
How has it changed or evolved since it started?
It has only excited for 12 months or less than that, so it hasn’t – we’ll see what happens. It is simply what it is. It’s a fairly straightforward document and we’ll see how people use it. I expect of course that there will be development as it gets used more and more, that’s the nature of the work. People learn from something and improve it. But at this point it is what it is.
What about over the past six months with the #MeToo movement cropping up and Time’s Up starting in the beginning of the year?
Those things don’t change legal language in my view. What they do is to change the appetite and energy for the kind of change that this inclusion rider could give us. And so the language itself, the focus on really bringing in women and people of color, LGBT folks and disabled folks, into the interviewing pool, that is not, from an employment lawyer’s standpoint, that is sort of a straightforward best practice, and so that part hasn’t changed. What I think has changed is this recognition and this upswell of energy ready to drive that change.
Have you run into any issues with it over the past year?
No, not yet!
Bringing it back to Frances McDormand’s speech where she told everyone in the room about the inclusion rider – how do you get one, what should you make sure to address?
So you call me or you call my collaborator Stacy Smith, and we’re happy to work through the particulars of the language with you or your lawyer or your agent to help guide you in its implementation.
Are there any specific points you would tell someone to absolutely include or be aware of?
Two things: This is about creating a diverse pool of candidates from which to hire, so that is foundational. The second thing I think is really important to push back on is any concept or idea that this is a quota. It’s not a quota, and I’ve seen some reports out there that what we’ve done is to basically create quotas for hiring. What we’ve done is to say if you create an incredibly diverse pool of candidates who are highly qualified for the job, then there should be plenty of opportunities to actually hire and cast those folks. We strongly encourage the actual hiring and casting, as opposed to simply the interviewing or auditioning – but it’s not a quota. Those are the two pieces that I think it’s really important to bring out.
Is there anything else you’d like to include or say about this while it’s a big conversation topic?
This is such an inspiring moment for me. I think about places where these things have gone wrong so many times and Hollywood is not different in that respect, things have been wrong there for so long, the issues of diversity and inclusion. The fact that we have this moment where people who have power in that industry can come forward and lead the way by using this inclusion rider uplift those around them who haven’t had the power, the marketing power in the industry to drive this kind of change – yeah those folks need to be part of the solution.
Do you dream of an ideal world where we don’t need the inclusion rider?
Yeah, of course! I mean I hope that these will become best practices across the industry, that when a studio begins a process this is what they do. I hope that we get there.
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