At the end of her Oscar best actress acceptance speech, Frances McDormand said, ” I have two words to leave you with tonight, ladies and gentlemen: inclusion rider.” An inclusion rider is a contractual amendment that requires gender and racial diversity in interviewing and hiring. Also called an “equity rider,” the idea has been spearheaded by Stacy Smith, PhD, founder of the Annenburg Initiative at the University of Southern California. In 2014, Smith told The Hollywood Reporter how such a rider would affect gender parity.
“What if A-list actors amended every contract with an equity rider? The clause would state that tertiary speaking characters should match the gender distribution of the setting for the film, as long as it’s sensible for the plot. If notable actors working across 25 top films in 2013 had made this change to their contracts, the proportion of balanced films (about half-female) would have jumped from 16 percent to 41 percent. Imagine the possibilities if a few actors exercised their power contractually on behalf of women and girls. It wouldn’t necessarily mean more lead roles for females, but it would create a diverse onscreen demography reflecting a population comprised of 50 percent women and girls. In other words, reality.”
Smith told the New York Times that “a typical inclusion rider would set benchmarks for diversity in staffing. As an example, it could require the cast be 50 percent female, 40 percent underrepresented ethnic groups, 20 percent people with disabilities, and 5 percent L.G.B.T. people.”
OSCARS STILL SO WHITE
Even though a woman, Greta Gerwig (“Lady Bird”), and a person of color, Jordan Peele (“Get Out”), were both nominated for best director this year, only one woman has ever won best director, Kathryn Bigelow (“Hurt Locker”) and a person of color is yet to do so. Peele is only the fifth African American director to be nominated in 90 years. According to the Attenburg Initiative there has been no significant change in the number of female or non-white directors for the last ten years.
This year, 80% of the the 20 acting nominees were non-hispanic whites though they comprise only 60% of the population. Only four people of color were nominated in acting categories. For the last ten years, 90% of the total nominees have been white; from 2014 through 2016 every single acting nominee was white.
White people and men are overrepresented in film. 70% of speaking roles go to white men. In 2016, only 29% of all characters where from underrepresented racial/ethic groups, even though these groups represent 39% of the overall population and 49% of the movie going public.
Women have far fewer speaking roles than men in movies and the number of women on screen has not changed since 2007. In addition, 26% of women are depicted partially nude (compared to 9% of men) or in sexy attire (compared to 6% of men).
On February 5, 2018, the National Hispanic Media Coalition demonstrated at a luncheon in Los Angeles honoring Oscar nominees. President Alex Nogales, said,
“Unless something changes very fast, we are going to start boycotting individual studios this year and calling executives out by name.”
A study released in July by Dr. Smith showed that while Latinos make up 18% of the population, they account for only 3% of film characters. For the sixth year in a row, no Hispanic actors or actresses were nominated for an Oscar this year. Jose Ferrer (Cyrano de Bergerac: 1950) is the only Hispanic man to have won a best actor Oscar and no Hispanic woman has ever won best actress.
Over the years, several tests of film diversity have been proposed. According to cartoonist Alison Bechdel, diversity occurs when at least two women talk to each other about something other than a man.
Ava DuVernay, one of only 4 black female directors, suggested that for a film to be diverse, people of color must have fully realized lives rather than serve as scenery in white stories.
Author, Nikesh Shukla, says that racial diversity in film occurs when two ethnic minorities talk to each other for more than five minues about something other than race.
For director, Nadia Latif, and Leila Latif, diversity means that a film has two named characters of color, with lines of dialogue, who are not romantically involved with each other and who do not talk about comforting or supporting a white person.
According to the Latifs, it’s important that people of color not conform to the “magical negro” stereotype wherein a saintly black figure comes to the aid of white people. Obviously, It’s also important that people of color not be portrayed only in stereotypical way such as servants, criminals, janitors, and prisoners.
In her TED talk (see above), Stacy Smith says,
“Stories tell us what societies value. They offer us lessons and they share and preserve our history. But, stories don’t give everyone the same opportunity to appear within them, particularly not stories compartmentalized in the form of American movies.”
According to the USC Annenberg Media, Diversity and Social Change Initiative, here are some strategic solutions to foster systemic change in the media:
- Set target inclusion goals.
- Combat implicit and explicit bias.
- Equity Rider
- Create Inclusive Consideration Lists
- Just Add Five Females to Scripts per year
- Shareholder Activism
- Ensure Environments Do Not Trigger Stereotypes.
- Support Inclusive Films.
As media users, we can pay attention to what we consume and choose media that reflects the way our society actually looks.
About Peggy O’Mara. I am an independent journalist who edits and publishes peggyomara.com. I was the editor and publisher of Mothering Magazine for over 30 years and founded Mothering.com in 1995. My books include Having a Baby Naturally, Natural Family Living, The Way Back Home and A Quiet Place. I have conducted workshops at Omega Institute, Esalen, La Leche League, and Bioneers. I am the mother of four and grandmother of three. Please check out my email newsletter with free tips on parenting, activism, and healthy living.