Women in Hollywood lead charge for visibility -- March 8, 2018 column
By MARSHA MERCER
With two words, Frances McDormand proposed a brilliant strategy to bring
more women and minorities to the silver screen.
“I have two words to leave with you tonight, ladies and gentlemen:
inclusion rider,” McDormand said Sunday as she accepted the Oscar for best
actress in “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.”
And so America learned a clunky legalese phrase that could change movies
forever. Google and the Merriam-Webster
dictionary site lit up with searches for inclusion and rider.
By putting an inclusion rider in their contracts, A-list actors,
directors or producers could ensure women, racial minorities, disabled people
and members of the LGBT community are hired for speaking roles and on set. McDormand
said she’d heard of the concept only a week earlier.
“You can ask for and/or demand at least 50 percent diversity in not only
the casting, but also the crew,” she told reporters backstage after the Oscars
ceremony. “The fact that I learned that after 35 years in the film business –
we aren’t going back.”
The pace of change surrounding the #MeToo movement is quickening. As
recently as January, actors and others wearing all black at the Golden Globes to
protest sexual harassment seemed a bold statement. A symbolic show of
solidarity is nice, but . . .
Now, encouraging signs suggest symbolism may lead to solutions to promote
women in the movie business.
Brie Larson, who won best actress for her role in the 2015 film, “Room,”
tweeted: “I’m committed to the Inclusion Rider. Who’s with me?”
There is pushback, of course.
“We’re not so big on doing everything through agreements,” said Netflix
CEO Reed Hastings.
The “epidemic of invisibility” of women in films has raged for more than half
a century, says Stacy L. Smith, who came up with the inclusion rider concept in
Smith, director of the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative at the University
of Southern California, has studied gender inequality in more than 900 popular
films. She found women still are only about 31 percent of the speaking
A typical feature film has 40 to 45 speaking characters, but only eight
to 10 are actually relevant to the story, she said in a 2016 TED talk, adding there’s
no reason the remaining characters can’t reflect the world being depicted.
Smith also urges studio executives to adopt the NFL’s Rooney Rule in
considering directors. The Rooney Rule -- named for the late Pittsburgh
Steelers owner Dan Rooney -- requires teams to interview at least one minority
candidate for each coach and general manager job. It’s become a model for other
industries, and while it has its share of critics, it does get members of
minorities into the rooms where decisions are made.
Women are woefully behind in other areas of movie-making. In 2017, women
were just 18 percent of all the directors, writers, producers, executive
producers and cinematographers working on the top 250 domestic grossing films, reports
Martha M. Lauzen of Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San
Diego State University. That figure was virtually unchanged since 1998.
The more women directors, writers and producers, the more the movies will
depict life from a woman’s perspective. That’s important because stories on screen
not only entertain us but also help form our view of the world -- often for the
worst when it comes to gratuitous violence and mayhem, but that’s a topic for
Sometimes change takes place one on one. Actress Jessica Chastain, nominated
for two Academy Awards, is a vocal critic of the pay gap between men and women
in Hollywood. She learned from Oscar-winner Octavia Spencer about the chasm in
pay between white and black actresses.
Spencer credits Chastain with helping her get a pay raise five times
Spencer’s usual salary for the holiday comedy they’re currently making together.
Each of us also has a role to play in promoting the inclusion of
unrepresented groups in the movies. We can look for and buy tickets to movies
with women stars, directors, writers and diverse casts. We can tell our friends
and post on social media.