By Meg Sharma
At this year’s Oscars, many were anticipating some big statements. Hollywood has seen a progressive year, tackling sexual assault and sexism in the industry, (as well as revolutionary casting in Black Panther), which has led to campaigns such as ‘Me Too’ and ‘Times Up’. Expectations were met, with many seeing the theme of inclusion and diversity among speeches, with one in gaining particular interest. In her speech for best actress, Frances McDormand mentioned an ‘inclusion rider’ to ensure that cast and crew meet a level of diversity.
The concept was conceived by Stacey Smith at a Ted Talk in 2016. She noticed that among most feature films there are roughly 45 speaking roles, with at least 30 being extra characters which do not affect the plot, so ‘there’s no reason why those minor roles can’t match or reflect the demography of where the story is taking place.’
The rider was already in some actors and production company’s contracts before the Oscars, and since then other actors have pledged to add it to theirs. This means the films they work in with must meet a certain percentage or quota of diversity, or they may be subject to a ‘penalty fine’ which is paid to a fund supporting underrepresented groups.
Currently the inclusion rider is only added to the contracts of those who chose it, and they mean well, but it could be used incorrectly or encourage diversity in a harmful way. Directors and casting agents may end up hiring actors based on their diversity, rather than acting ability or suitability for the role so they meet a quota and avoid paying a fine. The encouragement of diversity should come naturally, and while representation of the population is good, it should not be fought.
Smith also argues that the extra characters should reflect the population, not regarding major or even minor characters in this. Of course, in some situations a character has specific requirements in race, gender, sexuality etc. that are vital to the plot, but representation often has more impact when applied to major roles.
In the film industry minorities are still being paid less than their straight white male colleagues, and the rider does not help those actors gain a fair pay. This could result in those actors being hired and still being discriminated in their pay and benefits.
There is also a possibility that this could fall into positive discrimination, which is when someone is favoured based on their diversity, and is considered unlawful in the UK. The process of fining the distributor or producer if they do not meet a quota could force those people to positively discriminate, even if they had considered diverse actors in the audition process. While the complete details of the rider are not publically available, there is no way to ensure that hiring is done on a fair basis.
Diversity has often been publicised as a positive thing that makes the workplace better. In an article published on careers site Go Think Big, they say that diversity is ‘*totally* important!’ as it helps businesses make ‘big money’, and that diverse workplaces are less dull for all involved as people will bring in different lunches, or have different ideas when brainstorming (because people who are from the same background obviously can’t have different ideas!).
The article clings to the idea that diverse people will make the workplace more interesting and beneficial for those who are not diverse, and in turn they tend to miss out on opportunities and sometimes even pay. Really no one wants to be hired to to make others’ lives less dull, or because of what makes them diverse. I know I’d rather not work for a company that favours me because I’m Indian or a woman.
The fight for inclusion proves difficult. For those who fit the ‘diverse label’ they may want a job opportunity that will push forward their career but face the reality that they may be desirable for the role because the traits they are born with, such as race, gender, sexuality or disability, rather than their skills and suitability. The inclusion rider comes from a good place, but does not consider how the rider can be abused, or it’s long term effects and repercussions.