I admit it. I love watching the Oscars. It makes no sense, really, since out of the 10 movies nominated for best picture, I’ve only seen two of them and I only knew half the presenters. But my ignorance notwithstanding, it is always interesting to watch and listen to the speeches, to see what political and social issues might grab the spotlight this year. I knew before the event began that we’d hear about #MeToo and #TimesUp, the movements to address sexual harassment and violence in the entertainment industry and elsewhere. And this year, in addition to the funny monologue and the gorgeous clothes, I learned a new and important concept, “inclusion rider.”
According to The Washington Post, an “inclusion rider” is “an addendum to a contract that creates conditions for more equitable casting and hiring, focused on developing a diverse talent pipeline in the entertainment industry. … This contractual language represents a crucial step in eliminating exclusion of underrepresented or marginalized groups.” It is an interesting concept, the idea that those in a position to demand things in their contracts might use their clout for things other than money or personal perks, but might use the power of their positions to demand equality in hiring before signing on to a project.
While all this might be a good thing for Hollywood, what difference does it make for the rest of us? I believe it could matter in a variety of ways. First, when any large, powerful industry makes a significant change in the ways it does business, it often has ripple effects. When movies include more women, more people of color, more people with disabilities, the impact is significant not only on the screen, but for all the other industries that support it — caterers, writers, lighting and special effects, make up and costumers, musicians and stage managers. Everybody wins. And when a large industry makes a change, other industries find the landscape has changed and the competition for competent workers heats up, so they better step up their game to get the best talent.
A second, and perhaps even more important difference lies in how the movies and other media influence and shape the ways we see our world, our society and our communities. When movies and television tell stories that only have white men at the center, it becomes easier to believe that this is what the world really looks like. Or more problematic, that this is what the world should look like. If all the evil characters portrayed in media are Native American, or Arabic, or Asian, it shapes the ways we see people of those ethnicities in our communities. If, on the other hand, the movies and TV reflect the wonderful diversity that is America, reflect communities where people who are different from each other are able to work together, play together, sometimes have conflict and sometimes find ways to work through that conflict together, then it becomes easier to envision a community where such things are possible.
Inclusion is a good thing for communities, for societies, for the country. Whether we believe this as an article of faith or because it is the bedrock of American values, the reality is that an inclusive community is a healthy community. And a healthy community is one that values and supports all its members. I don’t often look to Hollywood as a bellwether of justice or as a moral example, but maybe this time, they are onto something.