An Actress's Thoughts

Let’s Talk about the Inclusion Rider

“I have two words to leave with you tonight, ladies and gentlemen: Inclusion Rider.”
Frances McDormand, US-American Actress, Academy Awards March 2018

A Closer Look at the Inclusion Rider

For the last months, the term inclusion rider has been popping up in newspapers and social media In many countries across the globe, including Germany. At the same time I got the impression that it is not always quite clear what this is all about, and that maybe applying it in the German film industry may not be that easy. So today I am publishing a more extensive article on the topic.
All highlighting within original quotes was done by me.

A Best Actress‘s Acceptance Speech

Within one night (the term) inclusion rider came known to a bigger audience was made known to a bigger audience. It happened in March 2018 at the Academy Awards. Frances McDormand was voted Best Actress for her leading role in THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI. At the end of her acceptance speech she asked all female nominees in the room to get up and concluded:

“we all have stories to tell and projects we need financed. Don’t talk to us about it at the parties tonight. Invite us into your office in a couple of days, or you can come to ours, whichever suits you best, and we’ll tell you all about them. I have two words to leave with you tonight, ladies and gentlemen: Inclusion Rider.”

What exactly is the inclusion rider and what can it achieve? McDormand said after the ceremony, that an inclusion rider allows actors to demand that the cast and crew consist of a certain percentage of people who represent diversity — i.e. women, LGBTQ people, people with disabilities, and people of color. (tvguide, 5.3.) and that everybody who does a negotiation on a film — which means you can ask for or demand at least 50 percent diversity in not only the casting but the crew. (Hollywoodreporter 4.3.)
Diversity is yet another term that everybody understands and uses differently – is diversity another word for reality, i.e. the mix of people in our societies? Then the target should be 100 %. Or is diversity another word for underrepresented minorities? Then it would mean that white, heterosexual women without disabilities are not part of it, unless they are old? This is a topic for another day.
The inclusion rider – I am proposing Diversitätsklausel as the German translation – has been defined in many ways in the night of the Oscars and since, which leaves room for a number of questions: Can all actors and actresses have this amendmend added to their contracts? Is it describing an intent or an obligation? Is it dealing with all team members? How can the passage be implemented and who will ensure it? – etc.

Who Invented it? Dr. Stacy L. Smith

The inclusion rider – also called inclusivity rider and equity rider – was created by Dr. Stacy L. Smith and, as often quoted, presented at a TED-talk in 2016 (The data behind Hollywood‘s sexism). Smith, who is an associate professor for communication at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, and Founder and Director of the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, had actually written a guest column about the idea two years before that (Hey, Hollywood: It‘s Time to Adopt the NFL‘s Rooney Rule – for Women). There she said under the heading Put Equity in the Contract:

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.

And on the Annenberg Institute‘s website ((The Inclusion Rider: Legal language for ending Hollywood’s epidemic of invisibility):

The inclusion rider is an addendum to an actor/content creator’s contract that stipulates that stories and storytellers should look like the world we actually live in — not a small fraction of the talent pool. It does this while also protecting story sovereignty.

“Diverse demography” refers to women, people of colour, people with disabilities and members of the LGBT and other marginalized communities, who are “traditionally underrepresented and (who should) be depicted on screen in proportion to their representation in the population“ (Why an ‚Inclusion Rider is the answer we need now, 5.3.18).
Interestingly, women over 40 are not mentioned, despite the fact that they are probably less visible in Hollywood productions than their male peers.

The website of the Annenberg institute offers a 5 page 9 items-inclusion rider template (by Stacy Smith and Leah Fischman (both USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative) Kalpana Kotagal (Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll) and Fanshen Cox DiGiovanni (Pearl Street Films).

Again, „tertiary characters“ and „minor roles“ are mentioned and roles that don‘t affect story sovereignty. In Germany we have the expression Tagesrollen / day roles for minor roles without effect on the story.
Actually I find it unfortunate and not mandatory to only focus on very small characters, but more on this with a model calculation (Using the G20 HH 17 as an Example) and in the subchapter Diversity in Front of the Camera.
Back to the Template and a quote from item (3):

  • The Director and Casting Director will audition at least one female and one person from any other under-represented group for all supporting roles. This includes engaging in the good-faith consideration of casting a female in a role scripted for a manor one whose gender is unspecified.
  • The individual(s) responsible for interviewing and hiring the crew will interview at least one female and one person from any other under-represented group for the following – off screen positions: Director of Photography/Cinematographer, Production Designer, Sound, 1st Assistant Director, 2nd Assistant Director, Costume Designer, Line Producers, Editor, Visual Effects, Composer.

In addition to this, item (4) states that “the Director and Casting Director will select qualified members of under-represented groups for supporting roles in a manner that matches the expected demographics of the film’s setting“. So is this about more than just interviewing and will possibly lead to hiring crew members from under-represented groups in case of comparable qualfications – which obviously have a greater effect? It‘s not quite clear.

I was a bit surprised to see that Stacy Smith is to be involved in the processes mentioned in the template, she is mentioned in 5 of the 9 sections: as consultant for director and casting director (4 a ii), as co-decider regarding benchmarks for casting of under-represented groups (4 a iii), as co-decider whether the Rider will only apply to the off-screen roles part (5), as recipient of the report to be produced (6), as user of the anonymized data (7) and as the person who has to check if the conditions concerning the on-screen roles were met. (The other three authors of the template are also occasionally mentioned and there are a couple of footnotes indicating that other individuals or institutions could also undertake some of the tasks.)
There are two articles which bring up some other aspects: Rebecca Chapman, criminal defense and civil rights lawyer in Boston, discusses the question of enforcing the inclusion rider and the role of the A-listed acting people who have it put into their contracts (Sorry, Hollywood. Inclusion Riders Won’t Save You.)
And Deb Verhoeven and Bronwyn Coate commented in The Guardian (22.5. Cannes of worms: true gender quality in film will take more than ‘just add women‘) that it‘s not enough to have more films by female directors if the gate-keepers are being ignored – this is independent of the inclusion rider though.

A Good Idea

It‘s a very good idea to focus on equal particiation and diversity and have it written in an amendment for the contracts. Also, to propose that more prominent actors and actresses should your their position to promote respective demands should be considered. The situation fo the German and European industry is a bit different, for one there are not really those big stars, and also there is no studio system. But a lot of countries have other means:, which may in part be better, more democratic and offer other arguments for negotiations: public film funding, European film funding, public television, broadcasting boards, public funding guidelines, requirements of public television, anti-discrimination laws and more.

The next chapter contains a case example, some statistics and many colourful images. After that I will return to Dr. Smith‘s proposals regarding the team positions and the question of diversity on-screen.

Using the G20 HH 17 as an Example

I will now explore the basic concept of the inclusion rider for casts and compare it with my method NEROPA neutral roles parity (official website). For this I am using the G20 Summit that took place in Hamburg / Germany in July 17, dividing the 38 political protagonists into three groups, primary, secondary and tertiary characters – leading, supporting and minor roles. This is just a model and does not reflect the actual importance, screentime or amount of word spoken of/by the 38 individuals at the meeting. Just to get a perspective, in an average script like the German film KLEINE HAIE, the minor roles appeared in or or two scenes, the supporting roles in 3 to 15 and the leading roles in 45 of the 85 scenes overall. So back to the summit:

  • The 7 leading roles (primary characters) are the representatives of the G7 states, so we have – in alphabetical order – Canada, France, Germany Italy, Japan, UK and USA, represented by five men (Justin Trudeau , Emmanuel Macron, Paolo Gentiloni, Shinzo Abe and Donald Trump) and two women (Angela Merkel and Theresa May).
  • The 14 supporting roles (secondary characters) are the remaining representatives of the G20 states: Argentina, Australia, Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey and European Union (2 rep.), a total of 14 men and 0 women.
  • The 17 minor roles (tertiary characters) are the representatives of guest nations and guest organizations: The Netherlands, Norway, Switzerland, Singapore, Spain, Vietnam, African Union, New Partnership for African Development, Asian-Pacific Economic Union, United Nations, OSCE, IMF, World Bank, WHO, Financial Stability Board, International Labour Organization, a total of two women (Erna Solberg, Norwegian Prime Minister, and Christine Lagarde, Managing Director IMF) and fifteen men.

Following Stacy Smith‘s inclusion rider concept, the minor roles will be cast gender equally as far as possible, according to the characters and the script, in this case we‘d get 7 women and 10 men. The other two role categories remain untouched. The overall share of women would rise from 10,5 % (G20 Hamburg) to 26,3 % (G20 Hamburg with inclusion rider). The next diagram shows this:

With NEROPA Neutral Roles Parity the script is examined to find the neutral characters among all roles, not only the unimportant ones. So in this script / scenario, I am checking which of the countries has had a female head of government before, and those who had will be defined as neutral, because he character does not have to be male. (In a real film the script and the characters and their background and function will be examined by a team of three. Here I am just describing a simplified model).

Using NEROPA, the minor roles will be transformed to 7 women and 10 men. For the leading roles, there are 2 neutrals, France and USA, because in each these countries the last elections had ballots between a man and a woman. In the next step, these two neutral characters will be transformed into one woman and one man, resulting in 3 women and 4 men for all leads. In the group of the secondary characters 8 neutral roles were determined, leading to 4 additional women. The next image shows the new distribution of male and female roles, following NEROPA:

So obviously the share of women for the 38 roles G20 summit cast will rise through NEROPA even more. It‘s not equal yet, but 40 : 60 are better than the real 10 : 90 for the fictionalization which did not change the cast and plot substantially, so that‘s quite promising, isn‘t it?

The difference becomes even more apparent when we look at the three versions a bit more spatially (to enlarge the images just click any picture of the gallery). Image 1 shows the starting position, image 2 shows the inclusion rider version, with the nearly gender equal minor roles on the horizon, that won‘t be able to leave a strong impression or offer room for identification. Image 3, NEROPA, shows women everywhere, never alone, and there are so many of them that they are bound to be disparate, which is a chance to reduce stereotyping (which we see in films like OCEAN‘S ELEVEN with hardly any women).

This example only dealt with the gender of roles, which is only a part of diversity. The inclusion rider concept will lead to rise of actors and actresses from under-represented demographics for the tertiary characters, the minor roles. With the NEROPA method – part 2: finetuning – the casting directors get the power to diversify the whole cast as far as age, size, ethnicity, body, colour of skin, sexuality, (non-)disabilty, accent / dialect and more are concerned.

As an addition let‘s look at image 4: here we see the occasionally occuring phenomenon of one gender-switched leading or important supporting role from male to female. Sometimes she then is the only one (à la ROGUE ONE), sometimes she is one of very few women (Dean Hardcastle in MONSTERS‘ UNIVERSITY or defense secretary Delacourt in ELYSIUM), in an otherwise basically male ensemble.

Diversity Behind the Camera

I have two comments on the proposed inclusivity rider model concerning the team positions, but I have to add that I am not really an expert on the US film industry. Do they really audition every part? Do they interview for every team position? Will no producer decide on the composer, and no director demand his favourite DoP without an interview?

Interview at least one female and one person from any other under-represented group for (ten) off screen positions.

I feel a bit uneasy because it sound a bit like „women and other minorities“, especially when the minimal claim is “interview one woman“. A female director told me that she was given a proposition list with ten DoP, nine of them men. She insisted on a subsequent improvement, they added several female cinematographers, and then she could make a real choice.
In this context I‘d like to mention one of the demands from Pro Quote Film:
5. Compulsory proposals for all team positions: put more women on the recommendation lists! Public television demand of the production companies they hire that they put more women on the proposal lists for other film divisions – following the example of the “Regielisten“ (lists with names of directors. Pro Quote Film and their predecessor Pro Quote Regie have campaigned for more names of female directors to be added). The production companies will ensure balanced team constellations.
If the recommendation lists are to be gender equal or if the share of women will at least correspond to the share of women of all starting in the job / graduates from film school is a question of taste or politics or something to negotiate. One thing is certain, there needs to be more than one woman on every list. (also read Camera: Through Their Eyes).

We have also seen often enough that „also invite a woman“ has not really been successful, as examples from Universities / appointment of chairs or actually the hiring of female directors have shown: “I really wanted to give the project to a woman, but when I called (woman ABC) she said she didn‘t have time for it“.
The German public broadcasters have committed to raising the share of female directors for their films, after years of Pro Quote Regie‘s lobbying and the shameful employment situation of female directors (as proven by the BVR diversity reports and studies undertaken for the German Film Board FFA), and also there‘s been some movement in film funding boadies. And all of a sudden, we see more female directors working for TATORT (Crime Scene, the top cop drama on German televison. ARD), and for other high-order television movie formats and series. The next years will show if these trends will continue and solidify, and furthermore spread to other team positions, or if more measures will be required.

What‘s been happening with supervisory boards and management / chairs of major German companies is quite interesting as it has shown that quotas and compulsory targets are more effective than intentions (we had a law in Germany saying that 30 % of the boards have to be women, and that for the chairs the companies just name their own intentions – where quite a few then actually set 0 % as their target (DIW Managerinnen-Barometer 2018: Geschlechterquote für Aufsichtsräte greift, in Vorständen herrscht nahezu Stillstand).
So I would say that for the German film and television industry (and probably also for those in other European countries) the cautious demands connected to the inclusion rider proposals (“interview at least one woman“) are not enough and not helpful at the moment.
But why not simply upgrade the inclusion rider? Why not ask for more than just invited a woman, for example how about demanding that there needs to be one woman as director, DoP, sound engineer or set designer? And then obviously not only invite one woman but as many as it takes to find the most suitable. There is more than one competent woman in each film division.

The other point where I see some need for clarification, when we talk of transferring the concept to the German industry, is this: According to the inclusivity rider template (3 b) it is enough to interview at least one representative of an under-represented minority for each of the 10 team positions listed. How will this be done? Should the sound engineer apply with a cv and work samples and also mention her Tamil father? The 2nd assistant (director) will note his homosexuality in the miscellaneous section, and the editor her disability? Or will it be done using the photographs, so they simply invite someone who does not look white, and that would be enough to satisfy the clause?
Or is this done via the subsequent voluntary self-declaration for the statistical report (6 e), for which the interviewees are to identify themselves as female / member of a disadvantaged minority on a questionnaire? Do we really want the production to be able to collect data like this (which will be anonymized afterwards), and what would be achieved by it? Less discrimination? More variety? I somehow can‘t quite picture it yet, and interestingly enough this is an aspect that has not really been discussed when people talk or write about the inclusion rider. At least not here, maybe this is different in the USA.



Diversity in Front of the Camera

This problem may also exist where the cast is concerned, since the inclusion rider states that a member of any of the listed under-reprsented minorities is to be invited to the audition for every tertiary character (4 a). Is this about visibility and identification? If it is, who can see if an actor or actress is a homosexual? Or should there be a line like „the head physician was played by a lesbian, and the actor playing the heterosexual family father is gay in real life“? Also, not every physical or mental disability is visible, and also probably something, not everybody wants to make public knowledge. And why should they?
What is more important for visibility and identification, the acting people or the characterization of the roles? Which leads us to the question if LGBTQ-characters may only be played by LGBTQ-acters and vice versa and so on. There is a German pre-primetime series called RENTNERCOPS (pensioner cops) with Vicky Adam, a lesbian departmental manager at the police station, member of the main cast. And for this I would say it doesn‘t matter if actress Katja Danowski herself is a lesbian or not – it‘s just a good thing that her character is part of the family-friendly early evening programme of public television. Apparently there is a character in the film SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY called Lando Calrissian – who had also appeared in THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK (and possibly was the first non-white human character in the saga?). Anyways, co-author Jonathan Kasdan has been saying now that Lando perhaps might be pansexual. OK. And? Is this shown in the film? No. Are they talking about it? No. Is actor Donald Glover at least known to be pansexual? No, not either. So is it a missed chance or simply a PR stunt? (see also QUEERBAITING – Star Wars: Lando Calrissian’s Pansexuality Means Nothing if It’s Not in the Films).

Years ago I saw the film SEX&DRUGS&ROCK&ROLL (2010) about genius musician Ian Dury, played by Andy Serkis, who – other than the real Dury – never had polio, but who played this just like many other facets of the character in a gripping way. Nina LaGrande has written about this issue on the Leidmedien platform (Acting the disability, Eddie Redmayne and the Oscar – Eddie Redmayne und der Oscar). In the Tatort (German top cop drama) FREIES LAND (2018) the young Maria was played by Vreni Bock, who is blind. Her blindness is not essential for the plot (that was my impression, but I have to say that I watched the film on the side, so maybe I‘m wrong), but of course brings another colour to the film. Was the role written as a blind character, or did Franziska Schlattner who casted the children suggest Vreni for the part, because she was best in the audition and looked most like a daughter to the actress who played the mother in the film?

US-American director / author Dominick Evans recently tweeted this challenge on twitter:

  1. Promise to always audition disabled actors for disabled roles
  2. audition disabled actors for roles not necessarily written as disabled (i.e. lovers, parents, siblings, teachers, etc.)
  3.  have disabled folks as extras

(He is not the only one with demands like this, in Germany for instance this is a regular issue on

Would the casting of films under an inclusion rider in the proposed manner even work in Germany?

Hm. The situation in the USA seems to be quite different from Germany, if they really audition actors / actresses for every part of a film. In Germany, a lot of roles, not only the minor ones, get cast without auditions, just from the material, photos and showreels. And for many of the bigger parts, especially on public television, the leading roles are clear from the word go, so there won‘t be open auditions either.

So maybe Stacy Smith‘s idea can by transcribed, let‘s say the casting directors should put at least one actress on the proposal list for every minor role. But actually, if a role was written as a man and now 9 actors and 1 actress is on the proposal list, the chances for a gender-switch will be quite slim. For that it would be better if the proposals were 50 : 50. What is happening in Germany from time to time is that a casting director may propose in a script discussion for a minor male role to be gender-switched (apparently this often happens with taxi drivers), and when the decision makers agree the casting director will put forward a number of actresses for the part. This is better than nothing of course, but it‘s a bit of a gloss-over, just like the situation pictured in the fourth image of the wooden figure gallery, “Let‘s have one (additional) lead female and leave all other parts for the men“ – the classical smurfette syndrome. In my opinion a NEROPA check of all roles bevor the auditioning has started makes more sense. This will also help avoid endless discussions on the definition of tertiary characters. On top of this, calling for „inviting at least one actress to the auditions of the male roles does not really question the existing distribution of roles in the scripts and the common gender stereotyping.

Just A Piece of Sky

If we compare the suggestions and models that ar being discussed in the German and other European film industries at present, then the inclusion rider does appear a bit restrained. But it does not have to stay like that.

Dear A-listed actresses and actors, dear producers and other people in charge, who may be contemplating the inclusivity rider, dear Stacy Smith:

Don‘t be afraid of diversity,
but beware of too much data collecting from the people that want to work in the industry.
Don‘t be afraid of quotas and targets!
Call for 30, 40, 50 % women for the 10 mentioned team positions, this will be much more effective than just „also invite a women“ – because in the end that can still mean 0 % women on all 10 positions.
Don‘t be afraid of the big roles!
Forget about those tertiary characters. Make NEROPA a part of your inclusion riders and make shure that all roles are being checked. This will lead to more female roles and also to more representation of minorities, to more visibility and to a reduction of stereotypes.

Why try to move forward in tiny steps only?

What’s wrong with wanting more?
If you can fly – then soar!
With all there is – why settle for
just a piece of sky?
Papa, watch me fly!

A PIECE OF SKY. From the film YENTL (1983). Text: Alan and Marilyn Bergman.


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