It’s been about a year since Frances McDormand’s 2018 Oscars acceptance speech and her mic-drop worthy moment of bringing the term ‘inclusion rider’ to the forefront of the industry. Since then, other actors have taken to promising equality in their future projects. Three days after the award ceremony, Michael B. Jordan promised that his production company would make sure inclusion riders were written into contracts for any upcoming projects. Just recently, Regina King promised in her 2019 Golden Globes acceptance speech that all future projects she produces will have a crew that’s at least 50 percent female.
But what exactly does the adoption of these stipulations mean for the industry?
In theory, inclusion riders should help diversify the vastly unequal environment of Hollywood. People of color, women and underrepresented individuals should be given a voice and equal opportunity for employment in the industry. The idea of this is great, but it’s harder to see the effect of it take form. While individuals themselves can insight change, the reality is that it’s hard to see true change until the larger corporations support the initiative.
So has there been any progress on that front?
Long story short, yes. In late 2018, Warner Bros. announced that it would introduce an inclusion rider policy, becoming the first major player in the entertainment industry to do so. The company promised to “create a plan for implementing this commitment to diversity and inclusion on our projects.” They also promised to issue an annual report showing its progress. The report has yet to be released, so it’s hard to see if there really is any progress on the diversity front.
The fact of the matter is that the company’s commitment to its new policy is a step in the right direction. Where Warner Bros. spoke up about the issue, many others chose to stay mum on the subject. Sony, Disney, Universal, and others are guilty of doing this. They haven’t made any real commitments to adding a diversity clause or policy to their hiring practices for positions on or off screen.
Even the streaming giant, Netflix, who has been producing more and more content helmed by women directors and featuring people of color leads, is lagging behind. Films like Beasts of No Nation and Okja feature diverse casting, but Netflix has chosen to avoid adopting any official policy regarding diversity. In an interview with USA Today, CEO Reed Hastings said they’re “not so big on doing everything through agreements. We’re trying to do things creatively.”
While that’s great in theory, the “creativity” of Hollywood historically hasn’t been able to make significant changes. If one were to rely on creativity over a physical contract stipulation, nothing would get done. Netflix spends billions on content, so why can’t they dedicate some of their time and money on something that could definitively change the industry? These powerhouse studios make up such a huge percentage of the distribution channel that they can lead the way towards change. Yet, few of them seem to have the drive to. This is where the real problem lies.
It’s not like there aren’t incentives to adding diversity to films. Studies show that films which feature diverse casting outperform those that don’t. They also show that people of color make up almost “half of ticket buyers who attended the opening weekends of some of the most successful films released within the study period.” Studios pledging to support ‘inclusion riders’ would most likely see an increase in overall sales and audience members.
Overall, it’s great to see new commitments to diversity by individuals in Hollywood. Go ahead and praise the Regina Kings, Brie Larsons and Michael B. Jordans of the industry because they are doing a great thing! You, yourself, can even take part in inciting change by adding an ‘inclusion rider’ clause in your film viewing. But we must realize that while promises to include underrepresented individuals is a step forward for the industry, nothing can truly change until more of the larger studios follow through with them as well.