By Ellen McGirt
Updated: March 5, 2018 1:15 PM ET

Well, hooray (grudgingly) for Hollywood.

Though the entertainment industry remains deeply problematic in terms of actual representation — not to mention, the still barely addressed issues of systemic harassment — there were some notable moments at last night’s Academy Awards ceremony.

Here are just a few: Jordan Peele became the first African American to win the Best Original Screenplay Oscar for Get Out, and Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water won for Best Picture—a film featuring a female actor in the lead role hasn’t won the category since Million Dollar Baby in 2004. And there were tender moments that resonated, like when producer Darla Anderson thanked her wife, and writer Adrian Molina thanked his husband when they accepted the Best Animated Feature award for Coco, a beautiful film that celebrated Mexican culture.

While Jimmy Kimmel generally won the day for his willingness to elevate the issues of gender and racial equity, it was Frances McDormand who deserves the award for bringing a human resources toolkit to the podium with her.

McDormand won Best Actress for her role in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, playing a grief-stricken mother who challenges local law enforcement after they fail to find her daughter’s murderer. (For those who haven’t seen the film, fear not, that barely explains it.)

In her acceptance speech, McDormand first asked every other female nominee to stand, and then asked everyone else in the room to look around. “We all have stories to tell and projects that need financing.” She ended her speech by saying, “I have two words to leave with you tonight. Ladies and gentlemen: inclusion rider.”

Bless her heart, if Google searches for “inclusion rider” and related terms spiked some 5,000% since last night.

An inclusion rider is an addition to a legal contract that mandates more diversity, in this case, in the casting of a film so it better reflects the demographic diversity of the world we live in. But what it really is, is leverage.

The Annenberg Inclusion Initiative seized the moment. “For those of you asking about the #InclusionRider, it’s designed to ensure equitable hiring in supportive roles for women, POC, the LGBT community, & people w/disabilities,” they tweeted. “#DrStacySmith worked with @KalpanaKotagal to craft the language. Contact us to learn more.”

The concept of an inclusion rider was first suggested by Smith, the director of USC Annenberg’s Media, Diversity & Social Change Initiative, back in 2014. At the time, she called for an adaptation of the NFL’s Rooney Rule, which mandated a diverse slate for head coaching jobs.

At the time, Smith was only addressing the underrepresentation of women, who comprised less than a third of all speaking characters in the 100 top-grossing movies in the previous year. But, she posited, if every A-list performer insisted on an equity clause asking that speaking roles that would sensibly match the gender distribution of the film’s setting, it would make an immediate difference.

“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,” she says.

Her TEDWomen talk in 2016 is laudably more inclusive:

“Across the top 100 films of [2015], 48 films didn’t feature one black or African-American speaking character, not one. Seventy films were devoid of Asian or Asian-American speaking characters that were girls or women. None. Eighty-four films didn’t feature one female character that had a disability. And 93 were devoid of lesbian, bisexual or transgender female speaking characters. This is not underrepresentation. This is erasure, and I call this the epidemic of invisibility.”

While the Rooney Rule’s impact was mixed, we’ve seen others, like certain tech companies and law firms, adapt the rule to their own industries, some with a measure of success.

McDormand deserves real applause for her willingness to use her platform to offer a tool that everyone can use, at least in some form, even if you’re not Hollywood royalty. All you have to do is understand the power you already have and use it to the benefit of others.

We can all be Rooney rulers. Insisting on more diversity for the panels you sit on, the committees you chair and the teams you lead is probably not the diva move most people are expecting, but it helps the cause. And, you might even get those pesky brown M&Ms – a secretly smart demand made famous by the rock band Van Halen – out of your sight.



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