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Inclusion riders: How Frances McDormand wants to spur change in Hollywood

The final two words of McDormand's acceptance speech drew attention to a contract stipulation that could make the entertainment industry more inclusive

by Claire Atkinson /

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When Frances McDormand took the stage on Sunday night to accept the Academy Award for best actress, she channeled her hard-boiled "Three Billboards" character Mildred Hayes.

McDormand used her Oscar acceptance speech to call for women in the entertainment industry to make new contractual demands on the film studios that would force them to hire more women and minorities on projects.

And then, at the very end, she dropped a couple of words that caught almost everyone by surprise.

"I have two words to leave you with tonight: inclusion rider," she said, referring to a star’s ability to put companies under clear, contractual obligations to hire more women and minorities.

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On stage, McDormand encouraged all the women who had been nominated, including Meryl Streep, to stand up and look around at themselves and said that executives should seek out women to finance their projects.

By invoking the idea of inclusion riders, she called on those women to use their power to demand tangible change.

McDormand expanded on her call when speaking with the press after her win.

The general concept inherent to inclusion riders is not particularly new. Celebrities have for years been able to inject demands into the contracts that tie them to particular projects.

Until now, there hasn't been much talk about using them to change systemic problems in the entertainment industry. The Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, which has produced many reports on the lack of women and minorities in movies, tweeted an explanation of the phrase and its power, if actors were to demand change through their lawyers.

Stacy Smith, an associate professor and director of the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative at the University of Southern California, has championed the use of inclusion riders. In December 2014, she wrote a column for The Hollywood Reporter in which she called for Hollywood to adopt the "Rooney Rule," which forces NFL teams to interview minority candidates for head coaching positions.

In October 2016, she gave a TED Talk where she discussed inclusion riders specifically:

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 8 to 10 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.

McDormand's call was quickly embraced by other celebrities including Brie Larson, who won the Oscar for best actress in 2015.

"I’m committed to the Inclusion Rider," Larson tweeted. "Who’s with me?"

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