After the Harvey Weinstein case and the widespread ‘Me Too’ campaign, in which women around the world courageously spoke up about their experiences of sexual harassment and assault by powerful people in the workplace, the climate in Hollywood has been politically charged. At the Golden Globes earlier this year, everyone wore black in solidarity with the ‘Times Up’ movement that was started and supported by over 300 women who work in film, television and theatre.
The ‘Times Up Legal Defense Fund’ seeks to aid people, both men and women, in their fight against sexual harassment and marginalization in the workplace. The objective behind the movement, as stated in the letter of solidarity signed by several actresses in the industry, is to hold the workplace accountable, push for swift and effective change to make the entertainment industry a safe and equitable place for everyone by telling women’s stories through their eyes and voices with the goal of shifting the society’s perception and treatment of women.
At the Golden Globes, the colour black became a symbol of resistance. Oprah Winfrey’s rousing speech anticipating a new horizon of change further stimulated the sentiment towards making workplaces safer for women. This broadened the discourse around sexual harassment which is often silenced because of a patriarchal culture of victim-blaming and shaming. But critics were quick to point that it could just become a fad without contributing towards any tangible change. Hence, the real challenge would be to take the initiative beyond hashtags to the real world. In the light of this, the speech delivered by Frances McDormand’s after she won an Oscar for Best Actress in a Leading Role is crucial.
McDormand announced right at the beginning of her speech with a straight face- “If I fall over, pick me up because I have got some things to say.” She was in for serious business. At the end of her speech, the ‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri’ actress urged all the women in the room to stand up and congratulate themselves just for being there because they had all come a long way. At the end of her speech, the actress said – “I have two words to leave with you tonight, ladies and gentleman: inclusion rider.” McDormand was asking those with power in Hollywood to push for requirements in movie and TV contracts for race and gender diversity, with specific clause or clauses that guarantee it.
An article in The Guardian reported that the concept was explored in a TED talk in 2016 by Stacy Smith, founder of the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative at the University of Southern California. Having examined the data on diversity in US-produced films, which showed that casting was not representative of the population, she suggested that an “equity clause” or an “inclusion rider” could be part of the solution. “The typical feature film has about 40 to 45 speaking characters in it” she explained. “I would argue that only 8 to 10 of those characters are actually relevant to the story. The remaining 30 or so roles, there’s no reason why those minor roles can’t match or reflect the demography of where the story is taking place. An equity rider by an A-lister in their contract can stipulate that those roles reflect the world in which we actually live.”
Representation and inclusivity have always been widely debated in Hollywood. In 2016, several actors boycotted the Oscars because of its overwhelmingly ‘white’ nomination list. In the current political atmosphere under Donald Trump, there is little hope for change. Last year, Donald Trump announced that he would end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program (DACA), which allows people brought to the country illegally to apply for renewable two-year work permits. Established in 2002, DACA shields 690,000 people from deportation. Lupita Nyong’o and Kumail Nanjiani who presented the award for Achievement in Production Design talked about how they persevered despite the odds to chart successful careers in Hollywood.
The duo encouraged “dreamers”, those who are caught between President Trump and members of Congress over whether children illegally brought to the US can stay, to keep striving. Guillermo del Torro who won in the Best Director category for ‘The Shape of Water’ also took his time on stage to say that he is an immigrant but art has the great power to erase the lines in the sand when the world tries to make them deeper. Thus, if the ‘inclusion rider’ is implemented by all production houses it will lead to greater diversity and representation in movies. During the Globes, Eva Longoria had called the ‘Times Up’ initiative a “movement, and not a moment”. With the ‘inclusion rider’, this could become a positive and tangible reality.
– Contributed by Ankita
Picture: Frances McDormand talks about ‘inclusion rider’ during her acceptance speech (Credits: Reuters)