“I have two words to leave with you tonight, ladies and gentlemen: Inclusion Rider.” After Frances McDormand concluded her acceptance speech with these two simple words at the 90th Academy Awards in 2018, it left many people wondering, and the Google search for its meaning boomed. Since then, the Inclusion Rider, as an idea, has grown significantly, combatting systemic biases and promoting a more representative and inclusive entertainment industry, particularly in casting and hiring practices.
In simple terms, the Inclusion Rider is a clause that can be added to an actor’s contract, requesting or requiring a certain level of diversity in the cast and crew of a film or television production. It encourages the inclusion of individuals from diverse backgrounds and perspectives, ultimately fostering greater equality and representation both on and off-screen.
I caught up with the passionate and committed Fanshen Cox, a Co-Author of the Inclusion Rider and Founder of the TruJuLo Productions, to talk about the journey that led to Inclusion Rider and transforming entertainment industry.
In 2014, the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative’s Dr. Stacy Smith wrote an OpEd urging the entertainment industry to adopt the Rooney Rule for gender equity in casting. “In 2016, I was working with my lifelong friends Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, who shared a strong commitment to inclusion. We invited Stacy to our office to share her research, and Ben and Matt agreed to attach an ‘equity clause’ to their contracts. This was when everything changed,” Cox recollected.
Stacy Smith introduced them to Kalpana Kotagal, an exceptional civil rights attorney at Cohen Milstein. “Kalpana, Stacy, and I spent months crafting the language of what would become the Inclusion Rider. We made sure it addressed diverse representation in hiring, including crew, people with disabilities, LGBTQ+ individuals, and racially and ethnically underrepresented groups,” Cox added.
They presented the Rider to influential figures in Hollywood, who praised its strength and encouraged us to persevere. However, many studios and production companies claimed they were already ahead in their diversity efforts, only to disappoint us with their hiring practices when their projects were released.
Then came the incredible moment at the 2018 Oscars. Cox reflected, “Frances McDormand stunned Kalpana, Stacy, and me by concluding her acceptance speech with two words: Inclusion Rider. It turned out Stacy had shared those words with McDormand’s agent beforehand.”
The Rider gained traction, and several projects and individuals, including Michael B. Jordan, adopted it. Stacy Smith turned to other work with the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative. At the same time, Kalpana Kotagal and Fanshen Cox expanded their efforts by sharing the Rider within the entertainment industry and advising on its adoption in other fields.
Amid the uprisings against police brutality in 2020, Kotagal and Cox collaborated with Caroline Joyner from Color Of Change and Dr. Tasmin Plater at Endeavor Content (now Fifth Season). Dr. Plater had already been utilizing the Rider as VP of Human Resources. “Together, we developed an updated version of the Rider, a new version for companies, and resources to facilitate its implementation. I’m incredibly proud of the impact we’ve made,” Cox exclaimed. Today, the Inclusion Rider is being used by various studios, production companies like AMC Studios and Forest Whitaker’s Significant Productions, and prominent consumer-facing events like The Grammys and NYFW. The White House even calls the Inclusion Rider a “seminal legal template.”
We discussed the details of the Inclusion Rider and what it entails. The Inclusion Rider requires engagement with a four-step process:
1. Deepen & Diversify hiring pools: broaden your efforts for sharing open positions to include underrepresented candidates as potentials for hiring through the development of a recruiting plan and doing affirmative outreach.
2. Set flexible hiring targets for qualified underrepresented people: reflect on your internal data, consider where you may be lacking in representation – or contributing to underrepresentation, and set some flexible goals to help diversify your workforce over time.
3. Collect the data: for most companies gathering and reporting this data is required by federal law. This is where we’re asking you to take a look in the mirror with diversity, equity and inclusion top of mind. In our resources, we include resources for data collection and clear instructions on surveying for this data legally and in encouraging ways for those who may be hesitant to share their demographic data.
4. Commit to doing better: compare your hiring plan and outreach as well as final interviewing/auditioning and hiring data against the flexible targets and commitments to see how you did over time. In areas where you fall short, you can make a meaningful financial contribution to organizations that serve to nurture the hiring pools in that area. This might be a percentage of the back-end profits for a film project. You might consider in-kind donations like mentorship for other industries or smaller budget projects. The idea is to help expand pipelines and increase the pools, especially in areas where hiring qualified people is challenging.
We chatted about examples of a film that Cox worked on and that went through these steps.
“On the Ben Affleck-directed film Air, I trained the producers on the Inclusion Rider process. I worked directly with Ben to gather the deliverables for all four steps once the film was wrapped,” she mentioned. Artists Equity’s CEO, Michael Joe shared their process of reaching out to potential candidates from underrepresented backgrounds and the outcomes of setting their benchmarks and collecting the data. Michael Joe was happy to report that their hiring of underrepresented people in both cast and crew went above their flexible targets – an impressive number. One of the narratives he shared was of a young woman who got her union credentials after being mentored on the film. “This was the first feature I’ve worked on directly that saw the Inclusion Rider steps all the way through, and I’m so proud of that,” Cox added.
We further explored the idea of a Producer role focused on inclusion as being standard in every production. Cox explained, “Completion of the four steps requires a producer who is not only fiercely dedicated to inclusion, but who also has experience in both creative and physical production. Implementing the steps correctly takes detail-orientation, project management, time and energy – and often other producers – even when they want to – struggle to thoroughly complete the steps.” Productions would benefit from having a producer specifically dedicated to implementing the Rider from development through distribution. This important role would be compensated and credited in line with other producers, not only because of the work involved – but also because hiring inclusively is proven to positively affect backend profits. “Through my company, TruJuLo, I’m creating an infrastructure to train and certify these specialized producers,” she noted.
“We can have more successes like what we saw with the production of ‘Air’ if Governor Newsom’s CA Film Tax Credit Proposal includes stronger reporting requirements for production companies who receive the tax incentive. In the past, there was little to no accountability for those production companies that failed to meet the DEI benchmarks in their hiring practices. Now, thankfully, Senator Lola Smallwood-Cuevas, Assembly members Tina McKinnor and Wendy Carrillo are spearheading the effort to make amendments to the Governor’s proposal to strengthen the DEI reporting requirements, and I am a part of a coalition that has been organizing community stakeholders to ensure that our voices are represented at the table with labor, management, and community,” Cox added.
Brands, media, and production companies who want to start on this journey can use the following advice. “Start by looking over the materials we created that break down the Rider process, offer FAQs and hiring resources, and demonstrate best practices in using the Rider. Feel free to set up a call with me as well using this link. We purposely made the Inclusion Rider and all of our materials available to all. We hope you’ll use them – and see all four steps all the way through. We’re confident we have created a process that will help lead us to a place of broader diversity, equity, and inclusion in the entertainment industry and beyond,” Cox concluded.