Until Frances McDormand took the stage to accept her Oscar in the ceremony’s final minutes, the show featured a parade of good-looking, extravagantly dressed celebrities paying important lip service to equality and inclusion in Hollywood.
With an empowering gesture toward all Oscar-nominated women in the building and two words (“inclusion rider“), McDormand forced the audience to consider what needs to happen in the wake of the heady awards celebration: real action.
It was a moment beyond Stacy L. Smith’s wildest dreams. As the founder and director of the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative at the Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism at the University of Southern California, Smith has spent more than a decade studying what she calls Hollywood’s “epidemic of invisibility.”
Her research shows that girls and women receive far fewer speaking roles in films than boys and men, and representation for Black, Latino, Asian, and LGBTQ characters, and people with disabilities, is abysmal.
Smith, with the attorney attorney Kalpana Kotogal, devised and championed the inclusion rider as a way for the entertainment industry’s biggest stars to leverage their power by making equal and fair representation a part of their contracts.
“It was nice to see somebody with notoriety take power by the reins and give a shout out…”
“It was nice to see somebody with notoriety take power by the reins and give a shout out and say this is something that can be adopted,” says Smith of McDormand’s speech. (Smith hadn’t spoken to McDormand prior to her Best Actress victory.)
And while the inclusion rider instantly became an Oscars buzzword, Smith has also developed a handful of specific solutions that should equally grab people’s attention.
Some of those recommendations belong in an inclusion rider, while others are about encouraging audiences and shareholders to hold the multinational companies behind the box office accountable for their creative decisions.
Smith says that if agents, entertainment executives, and actors embraced equality in principle and practice through inclusion riders, it could “revolutionize Hollywood overnight.”
Here are four more of Smith’s recommendations.
1. Add five female speaking characters to every film.
Smith urges content creators to add five female speaking characters to their films as a way of combating onscreen inequality. Whenever possible, those characters should accurately reflect the demographic diversity of the communities in which a film’s story is set, so that people of color, LGBTQ people, and people with disabilities are represented. Smith says that if screenwriters added five female speaking characters to every film in the top 100 movies each year, the industry would reach gender parity in four years — after decades without measurable progress.
2. Companies should create “inclusive consideration lists” for hiring.
In 2016, only 41 women directed films out of 1,006 directing gigs, according to Smith’s research. She wants to remedy that by demanding that companies create consideration lists that feature women. That would put female directorial candidates in front of studio heads and producers who might not otherwise take such meetings because their first impulse is to hire a male director (a habit that’s also the subject of Smith’s research). Inclusive consideration lists should be used for other behind-the-scenes roles, like cinematographer and composer.
3. Shareholders should use their influence.
Smith says Hollywood bigwigs have long argued that movies featuring a woman, person of color, or, you know, a woman of color, as the lead don’t turn into moneymaking blockbusters. With the success of films like Hidden Figures, Wonder Woman, Black Panther, and Girls Trip, it’s getting harder and harder for executives to make that case. Smith urges shareholders to pressure entertainment companies (think Disney, Warner Bros., and Sony) to do more to create inclusive content.
“Proportional representation across a story or film slate should not be viewed as a threat to profits, particularly as most characters in movies say only one word,” Smith wrote in a 2017 report.
an inclusion rider is something actors put into their contracts to ensure gender and racial equality in hiring on movie sets. 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.
— Whitney Cummings (@WhitneyCummings) March 5, 2018
4. Audiences should vocally support female-led films.
Filmgoers, Smith says, can be part of the change they’d like to see in Hollywood. That means buying a ticket for a film directed by a woman or that features a female lead. It can involve using your personal network and social media to share your enthusiasm for a film with a diverse cast. Consumers should know which companies made those films — and which companies opted to make less diverse movies. And when consumers aren’t praising what they love, they can criticize and hold accountable efforts that fell short of equal and inclusive representation.
Now that Smith’s work has gone viral, she’s eager to keep advocating for a movement that she describes as “at this point, unstoppable.”
After last night, Smith no doubt won over filmgoers and celebrities ready to fight alongside her.