Last week on Twitter, a young actor asked: “Is there a list of actors/directors/etc who have committed to an inclusion rider yet?”
It’s a good question. Who has committed so far?
He tagged @Inclusionists, which is the Twitter handle of the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative. That’s the think tank at the University of Southern California led by Stacy L. Smith who originally conceived of, and is now promoting, the inclusion rider.
Here’s how it’s explained on their website: “The concept is that A-list actors can incorporate a clause into their contracts that stipulates that inclusion — both on camera and behind the scenes for crew members — be reflected in films.”
The clause would ensure that “women, people of color, people with disabilities and members of LGBT and marginalized communities who are traditionally underrepresented be depicted on screen in proportion to their representation in the population.”
Sounds like a smart idea. Hollywood stars do have considerable leverage. And if they truly want to push for inclusion — or as I’ve written about in the past, ensure no pay gaps based on gender and race — they should be using their influence when negotiating deals.
Just the idea of inclusion riders is new. This is an ambitious experiment; it would make sense for the organization to maintain a list of who’s on board. This is their project, after all. You’d think they’d want to study its efficacy.
So what was their reply to the actor? “Everything publicly available is in the press.”
Huh. I thought that was vague and asked for clarification. The following is our exchange on Twitter:
“There are public and private announcements,” I was told. “The public ones are available. So yes those can be found with a simple Google search.”
When I pressed further and asked if they have their own database, I was informed: “A simple Google search reveals the database you are asking for. Press articles indicate the public commitments. We have now said the same thing three times. We are being clear.”
Spoiler: A simple Google search does not reveal any such database. You really have to hunt and peck. And who knows if you’re missing anyone? My own internet search turned up the following: Actors Brie Larson, Ashley Judd, Michael B. Jordan, John Boyega, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck and director Paul Feig. There a few asterisks besides some of those names; more on that in a moment.
Let’s go back to the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative. I was surprised at its reticence to speak plainly about whether it’s compiling a list of participants and said as much, and this was the response: “The people who have publicly committed are in the press. The total number does not warrant a ‘database.’ There is no reticence. Just Google it.”
Well. OK, then.
This is an odd response, to say the least.
“Just Google it.”
In Twitterspeak, “just Google it” means “figure it out yourself.” It’s one thing when a private individual says that — no one is obligated to be your unpaid learning resource — but when a university-affiliated think tank that’s actually studying the issue gives this kind of kiss-off, that’s a PR problem.
And it raises all kinds of concerns — about transparency and accountability and how the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative is interacting with members of the public — so I emailed Smith to see if we could talk by phone. Katherine Pieper, who is a research scientist with the organization, replied on Smith’s behalf and noted that the “quick answer to your question is that we are not maintaining a database of which actors, etc. have publicly committed to the Inclusion Rider.”
Finally, an answer!
But she did not reply to my requests to speak further by phone.
Here’s why this is troubling: Universities conduct research. And in fact, under the Annenberg banner at USC, a number of studies about Hollywood have been already published, specifically looking at who is and isn’t getting opportunities. It’s valuable work they’re doing.
Both Smith and Pieper have written a number of these studies in recent years and the studies are extremely useful — for anyone pursuing a career in Hollywood and for journalists obviously. But also for entertainment consumers in general. The data are crunched to expose just how prevalent marginalization is in Hollywood. Tracking that kind of information and analyzing it is precisely what Smith and her colleagues do.
So why aren’t they keeping a running list of who is working to change that through inclusion riders? Why aren’t they planning to follow up with these parties to see how it’s working? Where’s the academic rigor? They have declined to offer an explanation, but I suspect there are a couple of things going on.
The total number is indeed small — and perhaps momentum has fizzled in the month or so since Frances McDormand mentioned inclusion riders in her Oscar acceptance speech. Maybe the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative worries that maintaining a public list with so few names on it undercuts the viability of the idea itself.
Doesn’t it seem likely they are keeping track? Remember that tweet response: “There are public and private announcements” — how do they know about private announcements? It’s likely Hollywood power players have reached out to the Inclusion Initiative directly, but only if their interest is kept confidential. I’d guess the Inclusion Initiative has that information organized somewhere.
We are, of course, talking about individuals and companies who don’t want anyone nosing around their business decisions. But one might wonder why anyone who agrees to an inclusion rider — anyone who agrees to create TV and film with better representation — would want to keep that secret.
I suppose it’s easier to weasel out of that kind of commitment if no one knows you’ve made it. And it’s not unreasonable to worry that someone who has made a public commitment might not follow through.
That’s why there should be a centralized list. It’s a way to keep everyone honest.
So let’s dig in.
Pearl Street Films is Matt Damon and Ben Affleck’s production company, and it has announced its commitment to inclusion riders. But what about acting projects for Damon and Affleck individually that don’t involve their company? That’s unclear and perhaps strategically so — if they don’t plan to use their considerable leverage on non-Pearl Street projects, why draw attention to that? I reached out to their publicists for clarification and the response was … silence.
Michael B. Jordan and John Boyega also announced commitments, but the same question applies — does that pertain only to their production companies or all acting jobs going forward? Their publicists also declined to respond.
Brie Larson was the first to signal her intentions and she was as direct as possible. Just hours after the Oscars broadcast she tweeted: “I’m committing to an inclusion rider. Who’s with me?” Larson does not have her own production company, but she is branching out into producing and directing. I asked her publicist if she was committing to an inclusion rider as both an actor and director, and again no response.
At a Sundance panel in January, Ashley Judd talked about this as well: “Those of us who have the ability are also asking for 50/50 riders in our deals” — presumably focusing on gender specifically. My email asking her publicist if that statement meant she is officially committing to inclusion riders was left unanswered.
Why is everyone so skittish?
At that same panel Judd also talked about her agency WME: “I would like for this agency that represents me to be 50/50 male-female, including all ethnicities, races and sexual orientations. And the 50/50 needs to be included in all decision-making levels, which means they would have to add two females at the top.”
WME is the agency that represents both Michelle Williams and Mark Wahlberg and helped facilitate a several-million-dollar pay gap favoring Wahlberg on a film they starred in together, 2017’s “All the Money in the World.”
WME appears to be taking the right steps. CEO Ari Emanuel (brother of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel) invited Smith to address agents and executives on behalf of the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative. He later sent a companywide email instructing agents to discuss the inclusion rider with their clients.
“It is imperative that you have a conversation with your film and TV clients about this critical issue,” he wrote in the memo obtained by The Hollywood Reporter. “We also know that talking about inclusivity is not enough. It must be institutionalized in order to create change.”
What we know is that the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative is actively working with Hollywood players. The think tank is advocating for inclusion riders and trying to get people to buy into the idea. This all sounds good.
But when members of the public ask questions, “Just Google it” doesn’t instill confidence. “Just Google it” says: “Go away, mind your own business.”
Which doesn’t jibe with the spirit of their endeavor.
For some time now, people have been asking why Hollywood gatekeepers consistently favor straight white men over everyone else. And the answer has historically been some variation of: “Go away, mind your own business.”
Take Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, who said last month that the streaming network is against the ideas of inclusion riders. “We’re not so big on doing everything through agreements. We’re trying to do things creatively.” Here’s how USA Today described his stance: “He would rather have his staff speak with the filmmakers about how many women and people of color are working on the project before shooting begins.”
But as WME’s Emanuel pointed out above, talking about inclusivity is not enough.
It’s important to see which high-profile actors are doing their part. A few years ago, agent-turned-producer Gavin Polone wrote a column for Vulture about outrageous perks some actors negotiate into their deals: “luxurious bonus demands like private jets, masseuses and gym trailers,” as well as first-class accommodations for assistants — whose salaries are also picked up by the film.
We’re talking sizable add-ons. “I’ve heard of perk packages exceeding $2 million for one actor on one film,” he wrote. “That may be a small percentage of the $20 million that that actor was probably paid to do the movie, but none of that money is translated into what the audience sees.”
You know what contract stipulation would translate into what the audience sees? Inclusion riders.
It’s a great idea. And because it is being led by the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, it should be keeping track of it. Let’s be open and honest about who’s committed to it. And further down the line, how well it’s working.
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