Award ceremonies in recent years have become events where political and social agendas are commonly promoted. The media attention around these entertainment industry celebrations have made them ideal platforms to highlight worthy issues. The 90th Annual Academy Awards in March 2018 certainly proved no different. One actress who chose to speak out in a very candid manner was Frances McDormand. After picking up the Best Actress Award for her performance in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, the Fargo star launched into an eye-opening acceptance speech. And she concluded her address with a two-word phrase that practically broke the internet…
Born in Gibson City, Illinois, the word “prolific” comes to mind when discussing actress Frances McDormand. The 60-year-old has appeared in many critically and commercially successful films since her initial acting start in 1982. The following decades have seen her deliver distinctive dramatic performances in some classic motion pictures.
Among these are the likes of 1988’s Mississippi Burning, 1996’s Fargo and 2000’s Almost Famous. In fact, the actress was feted by the film industry for Fargo in 1997, winning an Oscar for Best Actress. But not only has McDormand showcased her acting chops on the big screen, but television and on the boards too. Acclaimed roles in TV shows, such as the acclaimed mini-series Olive Kitteridge, and stage plays, including The Sisters Rosensweig, have underlined her versatility.
With such an extensive and broad body of work under her belt, it should come as no surprise that McDormand has garnered many prestigious awards during her lengthy career. In fact, the star has achieved an amazing feat that very few others in her profession can lay claim to…
Indeed, she has managed to achieve the Triple Crown of Acting, being honored at the Academy Awards, Emmy Awards and Tony Awards. Picking up accolades recognizing excellence in the worlds of film, television and the stage indicate that an actor is at the very top of their game. But despite reaching such an elite level, McDormand showed in 2018 that she is by no means finished just yet.
In March of that year, the esteemed actress scooped up her second Academy Award for Best Actress thanks to her role in the comedy-drama Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Her unwavering performance as Mildred Hayes saw McDormand edge out the likes of Meryl Streep and Margot Robbie for top prize, much as anticipated. But if the win was not exactly a surprise, her acceptance speech certainly was.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – which also stars Peter Dinklage, Sam Rockwell and Woody Harrelson – revolves around McDormand’s powerful portrayal of a grieving parent. The bereaved mom hires three advertising hoardings to provoke her local police into investigating her daughter’s murder properly. McDormand’s master-class of a performance was full of grit and conviction, and she richly deserved her Oscar.
Nevertheless, McDormand’s acceptance speech at the star-studded Hollywood event in the Dolby Theater was anything but self-congratulatory or self-serving. No, instead, the winning actress graciously and courageously decided to speak up and take a stand for the other female nominees. And not only for them, but for every woman and other marginalized minority working in the film industry.
After making a few self-deprecating comments and thanking colleagues, friends and family, McDormand got down to business. Intending to make a striking statement, she next made a request that turned the ceremony into grand theatre. The Best Actress said, “If I may be so honored to have all the female nominees in every category stand with me in this room tonight.” And, of course, her sisters in the screen world followed, before McDormand went on to highlight a very important issue affecting everyone who works in motion pictures.
With her hands clasped over her heart, the seasoned performer continued, “Look around, everybody, look around, ladies and gentlemen.” The Oscars audience applauded as the various female nominees stood, and McDormand addressed the money men of the industry. She declared, “We all have stories to tell, and we all have projects we need to finance.” Yet, it was what she finished her address with that really got spectators thinking…
McDormand emotionally hammered home her point, saying, “I have two words to leave with you tonight, ladies and gentlemen – ‘inclusion rider.’” The two-word finishing flourish was met with a huge ovation in the Dolby Theatre that night. Nevertheless, it received a head-scratching response once the applause had died down. But, if you were wondering exactly what those two words meant, don’t worry – you were not the only one.
In fact, the uncommon phrase caused a massive spike on the search engine Google, with internet users scrambling to learn what McDormand had said. On Google Trends, the term went from zero popularity to 100 overnight. And what was the highest related query term regarding it? “What is inclusion rider?”
It turned out that an inclusion rider is a specific clause which an actor can have included in their film contract. Enforcing such a contractual condition means that a movie production would have to meet certain quotas when choosing cast and crew. The inclusion rider would ensure a diverse range of employees were taken on for the project.
Effectively, using the clause would allow A-list talent to use stipulations and conditions to enforce equality on gender, racial, and other minority lines in the film industry. There was no doubt about it on Oscar night – McDormand got people talking about an issue which is all too often swept under the red carpet.
However, it was a term that McDormand admitted to only coming across shortly before the ceremony itself. According to a report in People magazine in March 2018, McDormand was heard telling members of the press as much backstage at the event. She said, “I just found out about this last week.”
McDormand explained, “An inclusion rider… means that you can ask for and/or demand at least 50 percent diversity in not only the casting but also the crew.” And the veteran actress seemed determined that this information would make a difference, saying, “The fact that I just learned that after 35 years of being in the film business – we’re not going back.”
Indeed, McDormand showed more steely defiance as she finished talking to the reporters. She concluded, “The idea of women trending – no trending. African-Americans trending – no trending. The change is now. I think the inclusion rider will have something to do with that.” But just where did the actress find out about this term?
The inclusion rider idea was actually formed in 2016 by the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative in order to promote more diversity within the entertainment sector. A small description on the website of the University of Southern California’s think tank explains more about the thinking behind it. It reads, “This clause would ask for the film’s cast to match the demography of where the story is set. This way, even small parts can reflect reality.”
The concept of this equality clause came about in response to data showing that U.S. movies were not being cast in proportion to the country’s demographics. In essence, the inclusion rider is intended to function in a similar fashion as the Rooney Rule in the National Football League. Named after Dan Rooney, former chair for the NFL’s diversity committee, this policy requires better minority representation among coaching staff in the game of football.
And McDormand’s highlighting of the inclusion rider comes hot on the heels of the Time’s Up movement. This campaign for gender equality and against sexual harassment was launched by several prominent Hollywood figures in January 2018. It was ignited after sexual abuse allegations were leveled against film producer Harvey Weinstein in October 2017. Thought by some to only be concerned with the movie industry, Time’s Up, in fact, has a much wider scope.
Indeed, the campaign’s aim is to highlight the prevalence of sexual misconduct inside all workplaces, and to promote the equality of all genders and races. And, after just one month of going live, Time’s Up had raised some $20 million to fight sexual harassment cases in the courts and gained the voluntary support of 200 lawyers. So, with Time’s Up addressing past misdemeanors and the inclusion rider concept pointing a way forward, hopefully McDormand is right and there is no going back.