Q+A: Can ‘Inclusion Riders’ Really Change Hollywood?

Hollywood Sign

In closing her memorable Oscar acceptance speech, Frances McDormond left her peers and a national audience with two words — “inclusion rider” — and a lot of questions.

The term is a legal concept that has slowly been gaining attention since 2016 when Stacy Smith, a researcher in gender equality in film and television at the University of Southern California, delivered a TED Talk about how A-list actors could hold enough leverage to add a requirement in their contract obliging studios to reflect diversity in filling positions both on-screen and among the production crew.

The implication of McDormond’s statement is that a unified effort among actors to push for more diversity in the film and television industry could make a difference. Andrew Susskind and Larry Epstein, a pair of professors from Westphal College of Media Arts & Design, who are veterans of the television and film industry and have also been supporting efforts to improve inclusivity in the industry, recently weighed in on the impact that McDormond’s remarks and an increased push for inclusivity riders could have on Hollywood.


What are riders in contracts, in general? What are some examples of common riders? Are there any famous/infamous examples of riders in the industry? 

Riders are merely additional negotiated provisions or clauses beyond the typical boilerplate language of a contract. Common riders might include the type of accommodations and travel arrangements to be provided, or the “no brown M & M’s” rider famously negotiated by Van Halen in the 1980s. I personally was in the room of the business affairs executive negotiating the movie contract for a world-famous action star. In addition to the $15 million-dollar salary, the star required—and received—24/7 private jet availability; full transportation, salary, and separate lodging for his personal chef, trainer and equipment, and multiple nannies, all at the production’s expense. 

Where did the idea of riders come from? Do you know who might have been the first to start asking for them? 

I don’t know where the idea came from, no doubt a clever agent or lawyer. And while I don’t know for certain, I wouldn’t be surprised if the first riders were given to Charlie Chaplin, or most certainly to Jimmy Stewart for “Winchester 77,” which was the first time a major star acted as an independent contractor rather than as an employee of the studio system.

Who can ask for/negotiate for a rider? What are the challenges that go along with it?

Anyone can ask, but only major stars can successfully negotiate for any substantial rider. The main challenge for the production company and/or studio is setting a precedent—financial or otherwise—that then can be used as leverage for succeeding stars against studios. Also, there may be legal/insurance consequences—known or unintended. 

What could a concerted effort among A-list celebrities to require inclusion riders do to bring about change in the industry? 

To this point, “inclusion riders” has not really been in the vernacular. McDormand is asking that A-list stars of every gender, race or ethnicity start asking for them, in hopes that they will become commonplace and create change in the industry that is long overdue.

A sustained, concerted effort by major A-list stars could certainly change the ways studios, production companies, unions, and guilds deal with issues of diversity, most specifically increasing significantly minority and female representation in front of and behind the cameras and in the executive suites. 

What are some other efforts that are underway to push for more inclusion and diversity in TV/film?

Several creative guilds are explicitly seeking greater minority and female representation, but with little appetite and/or leverage to make a significant difference.


For media inquiries, contact Britt Faulstick, bef29@drexel.edu or 215.895.2617