What Does Frances McDormand’s Acceptance Speech Have to Do With Events?

Tying the Oscar winner's "two words" back to the business of events.

After Frances McDormand’s acceptance speech at last night’s Academy Awards, host Jimmy Kimmel joked that it should itself be nominated for an award.

In her speech, the actress — who won the Oscar for Actress in a Leading Role for her portrayal of a grieving, raging mother whose daughter was murdered in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri — asked all the women in the audience who had been nominated for an Oscar this year in any category to stand up. It was a way for the world to see how much female talent filled the theater and at the same time, the tremendous untapped potential for women-centered projects in the male-dominated film industry. McDormand finished her speech with two words: “inclusion rider.”

As it turns out, the notion of an inclusion rider — a clause that an actor can insist be inserted in his or her contract requiring that the cast and crew on a film meet a certain level of diversity — was first floated at a conference. Stacy Smith, founder of the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative at the University of Southern California, started out her TED Talk in 2016 by talking about the value of stories. Stories, she said, “tell us what societies value, they offer us lessons, and they share and preserve our history.”

But, she added, when it comes to American films, they don’t give everyone the same opportunity to appear in them. From 2007 to 2015, Smith’s research team had viewed the top 800 grossing films in the U.S. (top 100 each year), cataloguing every on-screen speaking character for gender, race, ethnicity, LGBT, and characters with a disability. What they found is that less than one-third of all speaking roles go to women and girls. Nearly half of just the 100 top films of 2015 did not feature one African-American speaking character; 70 films were missing Asian or Asian-American speaking female characters; 84 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,” Smith says in the talk. “This is erasure, and I call this the epidemic of invisibility.”

Smith suggested several solutions, chief among them that A-list talent simply added an equity clause or inclusion rider in their contracts that stipulates that minor roles match or reflect the demography of where the story is taking place.

When you boil them down, the most effective face-to-face conferences are a lot like films, in that those with the speaking roles (i.e., the presenters and speakers) engage audiences with captivating stories. And those who comprise each conference’s speaker lineup in some way mirror their industry’s or profession’s values. We’ve talked a lot about how many speaker programs lack diversity — here and here and here, for example. With the potential for inclusion riders to become an industry standard in Hollywood, might they be coming to the business-event world as something your speakers start putting in their own contracts?

Michelle Russell

Michelle Russell is editor in chief of Convene.