The importance of inclusion in the film industry

Inclusion riders can improve the age-old problem of the lack of diversity in Hollywood

At the conclusion of the 90th Oscars on March 4, actress Frances McDormand, who won the Academy Award for Best Actress that night, ended her acceptance speech by saying: “I have two words for you: inclusion riders.”

I must admit, before her speech, I had never heard anyone use the term in relation to the film industry before. According to an article by National Public Radio (NPR), I was not the only one. Following the actress’ speech, internet searches for the term spiked overnight.

According to The New York Times, McDormand’s mention of inclusion riders was the biggest public acknowledgment of the term to date. An inclusion rider is “a stipulation that actors and actresses can ask (or demand) to have inserted into their contracts, which would require a certain level of diversity among a film’s cast and crew,” according to NPR.

These days, I believe people are more accepting of diversity in terms of race, gender, ethnicity and culture, and so inclusion in the media is a crucial aspect of progress. Yet, for something that should be an obvious movement in the film industry, it is taking far too long to achieve results.

According to a 2014 Hollywood Reporter article written by Stacy L. Smith, the founder and director of the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative at the University of Southern California (USC) Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, women are severely underrepresented in the film industry. A nine-year study conducted by USC observed that, in 2013, women represented less than a third of speaking characters among the top 100 grossing films, a ratio that has remained constant for the last 25 years. In regards to current statistics, women comprised 34 per cent of all speaking roles, 37 per cent of the major characters and 24 per cent of sole protagonists among the 100 top-grossing films in 2017, according to the website Women and Hollywood.

Racial diversity wasn’t much better last year among these top 100 films, as 68 per cent of all female characters were white. Of the remaining 32 per cent, 16 per cent were black, seven per cent were Latina, seven per cent were Asian and two per cent were another race or ethnicity.

For years, Smith has made it her personal mission to promote diversity in the film industry. Unfortunately, factors such as the biases of producers, directors or casting directors interfere with the interviewing and hiring process, which not only prevents any progress from being made, but also makes it more difficult for gifted actors to reach their full potential, according to The New York Times.

According to NPR, Smith’s findings do indicate that although not many actors pushed for an inclusion rider in the past, many have started asking for it. She also elaborates that the

benefits of inclusion riders could increase diversity in the film industry both on screen and among the crew, according to The New York Times.

Among those taking action in the last few weeks, Michael B. Jordan, who most recently played the role of Erik Killmonger in Black Panther, announced that his production company, Outlier Society Productions, will now be adding an inclusion rider into its projects, according to The New York Times. This decision marks the first time a major actor has publicly adopted a rider since McDormand’s speech.

A lot of progress has been made in the last few decades to promote diversity and equality in society. However, in my opinion, it is important to recognize that we still have a long way to go and that we must acknowledge the faults within our current system, especially in the film industry. In Smith’s words, we must make sure that “the world on-screen looks like the world in which we live.”

Graphic by Alexa Hawksworth

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