Talking about racial and gender inclusion isn’t tantamount to doing something about it. That’s what made actress Frances McDormand’s challenge at the recent Academy Awards so inspiring. More than just lip service, the two-time Oscar-winning actress offered a navigable road map for change, and it’s one that is also applicable outside of Hollywood.
When McDormand pointedly uttered the words “inclusion rider” toward the end of her rousing acceptance speech, she publicized an idea that’s been around for several years. In short, it means actors can include a clause in their film contract demanding a certain percentage of diversity in front of and behind the camera.
In a 2014 column for The Hollywood Reporter, Stacy L. Smith, founder and director of the University of Southern California’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, wrote, “If notable actors working across the 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.”
From the “Bechdel Test” to #OscarsSoWhite,” there’s been pressure to address Hollywood’s lack of racial and gender inclusion. Some are already responding to McDormand’s suggestion. Fellow Oscar winner Brie Larson tweeted her support, Michael B. Jordan, currently costarring in the critically acclaimed blockbuster “Black Panther,” Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, and “Bridesmaids” director Paul Fieg all announced they will also implement inclusion riders on their productions.
Individual stars have always used their clout to agitate for change. In the 1950s, Frank Sinatra refused to play at segregated clubs unless African-Americans were allowed admission. More recently, Oscar-winning actress Octavia Spencer shared a story about how her friend and fellow actress Jessica Chastain negotiated for Spencer to be paid a salary equal to her own on their upcoming film.
Yet in front of millions, McDormand presented a unique public challenge on inclusion that can be adapted by any industry.
The NFL already has its own version, the “Rooney Rule,” named for the former Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney. Teams are required to interview minority candidates for head coaching jobs and senior positions, though some argue the policy needs to be strengthened.
There’s no reason why others can’t take similar steps. City officials can make deals with real estate developers contingent on a certain number of women or minority-owned businesses as tenants in a new shopping complex. They could also look at the diversity of boards of directors to see who’s making decisions about hiring and pay equity. It goes beyond city halls and boardrooms. Last month, more than 700 Quebec doctors rejected a pay raise, insisting that the money instead be allocated to patient care and lesser-paid colleagues.
Studies have proved that companies dedicated to diversity and inclusion perform better. One need look no further than the biggest film of the year so far, “Black Panther,” which was written and directed by African-Americans, has a predominantly black cast, and will soon top $1 billion in worldwide sales.
It’s not about quotas, optics, or political correctness. Inclusion means leveling the field and doing what is right, as well as financially sound, in Hollywood and beyond.