Oscar Diversity and The Inclusion Rider

Last week I complained about how white the Oscars (and therefore Hollywood) are to this day. What I lightly brushed upon is just how male-dominant the film industry actually is.

To start, Frances McDormand had surprised a lot of people on Sunday when she left the stage after collecting her Oscar with the words “inclusion rider.” Backstage she explained in a little more detail what exactly is behind the concept that is doubtlessly new to a lot of people, including Hollywood veterans.

An inclusion rider is known as a clause asking for diversity cast and crew in almost any shape or form. It could be the requirement for a certain percentage of ethnically diverse people, a certain percentage of gender diversity, or of people identifying as LGBTQ+, or of people with disabilities. The list goes on.

The idea isn’t exactly new; in fact, there is a brilliant TED talk that suggests making inclusion riders a standard in actor’s contracts. The talk, titled “The data behind Hollywood’s sexism”, was given by Stacy Smith in 2016, and I recommend you watch if you ever find yourself having a free minute.

Some A-listers didn’t hesitate to jump to McDormand’s side: Brie Larsen tweeted only hours after the ceremony that she’s “committed to the inclusion rider”. On the following Wednesday, Michael B. Jordan pledged, regarding his company Outlier Society, that inclusion riders will be integrated into every project.

So, does this solve all of Hollywood’s gender problems? Of course not. It requires a lot of dedication on all ends to make show business more inclusive. But is it a good start? Most certainly. Even if it is just the awareness within some actor’s ability even to make this sort of demand is a huge step in the right direction. In this sense, Frances McDormand could not have chosen a better moment to throw these two words out there.

The mention of inclusion riders, however, was not the only inclusive moment from the Oscars. When Tiffany Haddish and Maya Rudolph took the stage to present “Best Live Action Short Film” and won over the crowd in a split second when joking about how the Oscars may have all of a sudden become “too black” (no worries, they’re not, but the joke doesn’t come across well in writing). Moments later, Rachel Shenton signed the speech she gave after winning the same category.

History was also written when Rachel Morrison was the first woman to ever be nominated under the “Best Cinematography” category for Mudbound. Nominations were generally a little bit more diverse, yet, for example, no black person has ever won “Best Director”. (I guess one could make the somewhat weak argument that the Academy has occasionally dipped a toe in the water and awarded “Best Director” to a few people of diverse backgrounds, like Guillermo del Toro for Shape of Water.)

Behind the scenes, the academy seems to test the waters as well: the 774 members added last year make up the most diverse mix of people, with 37% of them being female, and 30% being people of color.

But there is still way to go. When is a woman going to win “Best Cinematography” or “Best Director”? When is a person of color going to win “Best Director”? When do in-showbusiness underrepresented and minority groups no longer have to politely clap while white men collect their awards?

Until that fateful day, the motto seems to be “baby steps”.

Deborah Pirchner

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