At the Oscar’s, in Francis McDormand’s acceptance speech, she brought the term “Inclusion Rider” to national attention. What is an inclusion rider? An inclusion rider is a clause that would be inserted into a movie contract to secure a more equal distribution of female actresses and minorities into the project.
In theory, inclusion riders are a great idea. But the problem with inclusion riders is they don’t address a more fundamental problem we have in our films and television shows:
The racial and gender bias inherent in most screenplays.
The movie I’m thinking of is the same one that Francis McDormand won for Best Actress. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri.
First a little history on the project. Written and directed by Martin McDonagh, a British filmmaker, and playwright who, twenty years ago, took a Greyhound bus trip through the Southern United States. He witnessed several billboards with angry messages targeting the local police and wrote the screenplay from that idea.
So let’s get this straight. A British man, just passing through the South on a bus trip twenty years ago, saw some billboards and wrote a screenplay. A screenplay about our country. About the South. How could he possibly know the complexities of the South, breezing past on a Greyhound bus?
Yes, there are more than a few women characters. But two of the female characters are written as laughably stupid. Their stupidity is supposed to make us laugh. That should not be funny. The only educated woman is the wife of Chief Willoughby who is British. Hmmm.
Yes, there are African American characters. But two of the African American characters are used to make Mildred, a white woman, look sympathetic. Hey, she’s got black friends, she’s cool. Look critically at those characters. That’s the only purpose they serve.
And then there’s “the midget” played by Peter Dinklage. He’s a running joke throughout the film and again, we’re invited to laugh along. That’s not cool. He has a sad moment where he questions the bigotry but it does not excuse what the writer/director did by making a dwarf a joke.
Yes, there is bigotry and racism in our country. But let’s applaud the stories made by people from those places or those that spend the time getting to know the people. That represent them accurately. Not as stereotypes to look down on. Not a story written by someone from another country just passing through on a bus. Authentic Stories.
Inclusion riders are a step in the right direction. Authentic screenplays about real people from diverse voices is the next most important step.