Inclusion rider: Frances McDormand’s Oscars’ tip


Always a thrill to wake up after Oscars night and see the winners. This year, along with glamour and stars, the headlines are ringing with a clunky legal term.

Frances McDormand ended her acceptance speech for the Oscar for best actress (for her extraordinary performance in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri) with:

“I have two words for you: Inclusion rider”


Inclusion rider.

As she promised, the internet is buzzing with the phrase.

The Guardian explains:

“An “inclusion rider” is a clause that an actor can insist be inserted in their contract that requires cast and crew on a film to meet a certain level of diversity.”

The concept was outlined in a TED talk in 2016 by Stacy Smith, founder of the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative at the University of Southern California. She examined the data on diversity in US-produced films, and found that casting was not representative of the population. Looking for practical solutions she suggested that an “equity clause” or an “inclusion rider” could be be one approach.

Stacy Smith has compared the idea of an inclusion rider to the NFL’s Rooney Rule, which requires league teams to interview minority candidates for head coaching and senior football operation jobs. This is without quota or preference for minority candidates: the requirement is that the opportunity be available.

The idea of the inclusion rider is to increase the representation across the cast and crew. Partly so that movies are more representative of the world around us, partly to create opportunities for career path. For example, if the ‘tertiary’ or non-speaking roles, were more open to women, black, latino or other minority heritage cast, this seeds opportunities for new talent to grow.

Frances McDormand jumped over Hollywood’s talk about diversity, straight to action on inclusion.
She’s refocused what it means to belong in the film industry.

Putting her Oscar on the floor in front of her, she asked all the other women nominees, writers, cinematographers, all the female talent involved in filmmaking, to “stand up in the room with me”.

Then she addressed the power in the room – the executives and funders.

Look around, ladies and gentlemen, because we all have stories to tell and projects we need financed,” she said.

“Don’t talk to us about it at the parties tonight – invite us into your office in a couple of days, or you can come to ours, whatever suits you best – and we’ll tell you all about them.”

Backstage after the Oscars ceremony, McDormand explained about inclusion riders, “I just found out about this last week. This has always been available to all, everybody who does a negotiation on a film, which means you can ask for or demand at least 50 percent diversity in not only the casting and the crew. The fact that I just learned that after 35 years in the film business — we aren’t going back.”

Looking for examples of stars using inclusion riders, we came across a story that the late Robin Williams insisted on an inclusion rider, that any event or film he was involved with had to employ some homeless people.  Though not verified with a section of the contract, the story is regarded as credible – even more heartwarming that the star made no public mention of it at all.

Perhaps the inclusion rider is one way to improve inclusion and make it more possible for people of diverse backgrounds to succeed in the movie business. Would it work in other sectors? Is the star system of the movies, a kind of ersatz aristocracy, as prevalent in the business world?

Arguably, the star system itself works against equality. As Stacy Smith is quoted in Vanity Fair:

“If you get the Hollywood elite to adopt it in their contracts, it becomes baked in.”

Ironically, the power of the contract ‘rider’ rests on the strength of the star, and their beneficence, to share their opportunity. Which comes back to privilege in the first place. A whiff of noblesse oblige?

Less-starry business sectors must find other ways to spread opportunity in order to include diverse talent.

Ah, let’s not be ungracious, especially on Oscars morning. Frances McDormand has laid down a gauntlet with a practical option, and an invitation to the ‘money’ to talk with female and minority filmmakers. Just like her character, Mildred, in unstoppable, focused, stolid form she has taken direct action in a most unexpected way to make her message blaze across the world.

In two words Frances McDormand has outshone the 43 million Swarowksi crystals in the set design.

We’re exploring how to make the most of diversity inclusion and belonging, for commercial success and a thriving culture, at our seminar on the 27th of March. Email to book your place.