Why Frances McDormand Won the Oscars
“Two words,” Frances McDormand said in her masterful Oscar acceptance speech last week. “Inclusion. Rider.” Those two words concerned with narrowing the racial, gender, and sexuality disparities has started a movement. It was the most powerful moment of the evening by far, and a week later, we are still talking about it. How could one refute the power of that statement when, on the same telecast, Jordan Peele became the first African-American writer to win for Best Original Screenplay? The 60-year old “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” star also made a statement by appearing on the 90-year old telecast, watched by several hundred million viewers, without makeup. In the interim of that statement, Michael B. Jordan has said he will be adopting an inclusion rider in all future contracts with his production company Outlier Society. Brie Larson did as well. Soon after Merriam-Webster noted that “'Inclusion' is our top search on the night, followed by 'cinematography,' 'in memoriam,' 'feminism,' and 'rider.'” And there was much chatter in Google in the days following the Oscars as to what an inclusion rider actually means.
Riders in the contracts of big artists are infamously frivolous. Van Halen once asked for a bowl of M&M with all the beige candies removed; Kanye asked for an entertainment center and a full length mirror (among other things). Stories of entertainment industry excesses. So there is an almost iron logic to the idea of turning such a staple of entitlement on its head. “An inclusion rider uses the same vehicle for something entirely different: it requires an inclusive hiring practice for the project that brings on women, people of color, LGBT people, those with disabilities, and others from marginalized groups. It envisions demanding diversity not just in the on-screen hires, but for the off-screen crew as well.” Bryce Covert writes on Jezebel.
The pace of change has not come to Hollywood fast enough. According to a new survey, 94 percent of women in the entertainment industry have experienced sexual assault of some kind. Stacy Smith has an amazing TED talk about sexism in the movie industry. #OscarsSoWhite ignited the industry a couple of years ago. In 2016, for the second year in a row, all 20 actors nominated in the best and supporting acting categories were white. It was discovered that this was happening, because the Academy was 91% white and 76% male. Previous to 2015, this had not occurred since 1998. The Academy, as a result, pledged to double the numbers of diverse members by 2020.
An inclusion rider is an idea whose time has come, but was not invented on that night. Hollywood, generally liberal, appears to be serious about becoming an industry as diverse as the population. Ava Duvernay demanded that Queen Sugar has diverse key creatives and directors for two years. But there are some industry heavyweights that have no interest in inclusion riders, like Reed Hastings of Netflix. “(A)n inclusion rider is something actors put into their contracts to ensure gender and racial equality in hiring on movie sets,” tweeted comedienne Whitney Cummings. “We should support this for a billion reasons, but if you can't find a reason to, here's one: it will make movies better.” A new Quartz study finds that diversity actually increases the bottom line of a company. As proof that this is an idea whose time has come, for the last few weeks the biggest box office earners in the United States have been Black Panther and A Wrinkle in Time, two largely diverse films – on and off-camera -- helmed by African-American directors.
There is still a long way to go. Underrepresented groups are still lagging tremendously in directing jobs, for example. But all industries have this problem. The sciences are noticeably bad in this regard. The meetings industry is now having this conversation. Even the Jewish community is discussing how their communal organizations are run. Have you ever attended an industry panel that has experts all of one color or gender (male)? They even have a name – “manels.”
The Oscars are an international event, so the conversation has spread around the world. Women around the world are underrepresented in industries, especially in tech. Google is just one example of global companies with a lack of diversity in the tech sector; Amazon also is facing public scrutiny on that front. Bollywood is talking about inclusion riders. Christian conferences are thinking about inclusion riders. Frances McDormand’s Oscar speech has actually started a conversation about representation in institutions of power around the world. To use the Oscar telecast – one of the marquee events viewed all over the world – to start this conversation is one of the many reasons why Frances McDormand won not just Best Actress, but the entire night.