Brow Beat

So What’s an Inclusion Rider, Anyway?

Frances McDormand with her Oscar on Sunday.
Frances McDormand with her Oscar on Sunday. Angela Weiss/Getty Images

Frances McDormand’s acceptance speech for her Best Actress win Sunday night had the audience cheering, then standing, and then googling. “I have two words to leave with you tonight, ladies and gentlemen: inclusion rider.”

Inclusion rider? If you found McDormand’s sign-off puzzling, you weren’t the only one; even writer and film historian Mark Harris was baffled:

But at the moment McDormand spoke those cryptic words, Google had only 125 results for the phrase “inclusion rider,” most of which seemed to be unrelated to cinema. As with most of life’s tough questions, however, the answer was found in a TED talk. Here’s how Stacy Smith, the founder and director of USC’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative explained the idea:

A-listers, as we all know, can make demands in their contracts, particularly the ones that work on the biggest Hollywood films. What if those A-listers simply added an equity clause or an inclusion rider into their contract? Now, what does that mean? Well, you probably don’t know, but the typical feature film has about 40 to 45 speaking characters in it. I would argue that only eight to ten of those characters are actually relevant to the story. Except maybe Avengers. Right? A few more in Avengers. The remaining 30 or so roles, there’s no reason why those minor roles can’t match or reflect the demography of where the story is taking place. An equity rider by an A-lister in their contract can stipulate that those roles reflect the world in which we actually live. Now, there’s no reason why a network, a studio or a production company cannot adopt the same contractual language in their negotiation processes.

It’s a great idea, and an easy way for the few people in Hollywood with real negotiating power to leverage it to make positive social change. Here’s Smith’s complete TED talk on Hollywood sexism.