The word inclusion has been thrown around in the entertainment industry for several years now. However, campaigning for minorities in front and behind the camera can improve the age-old problem of the lack of diversity in Hollywood.
Companies and businesses have become more inclusive to welcome those worldwide as our society evolves. Yet, Hollywood hasn’t made enough effort in this area to make a difference in the amount needed in the filmmaking business. So first, where does the rising interest in inclusion or an inclusion rider come from in the entertainment world?
On March 4th, 2018, actress France McDormand gave an acceptance speech during her Best Actress win for the movie Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. One sentence grabbed everyone’s attention during McDormand’s speech: “I have two words to leave with you tonight, ladies and gentlemen: inclusion rider.”
Making the entertainment business a more inclusive setting gives job opportunities to those looking to share their relatable experience and stories with today’s audiences. An “inclusion rider” is a stipulation in an actor or filmmaker’s contract that the cast and the crew in a movie consider accurate demographics, like several women, minorities, members of the LGBTQ+ community, and people with disabilities. What’s important to remember is that adherence to these suggestions benefits the moviemaking industry and, in many cases, the box office.
Let’s talk about the biggest reason why Hollywood exists—money. It’s no secret that the entertainment industry is there to make money to create more movies, and the process repeats. Audiences love to watch a film as a form of escapism and are willing to shell out their hard-earned dollar for it. However, one factor that is becoming apparent is that a less diverse cast brings in fewer dollars. The UCLA-based Center for Scholars and Storytellers report claims that the lack of diversity has hurt the box-office numbers.
The UCLA group analyzed over 100 movies from 2016 to 2019 and found those movie studios had lost up to $130 million per film when their programs lacked authentic diversity. Moreover, these heavy losses of profit might have affected the studios in a big way that other productions might’ve suffered. Yet, it’s been proven that past audiences want to see more diverse characters in their films.
For instance, 2018’s Crazy Rich Asians—a predominantly Asian cast—grossed $238,532,921 worldwide. However, the success of Crazy Rich Asians wasn’t a “lightning in a bottle” occurrence. That same year, Marvel’s Black Panther grossed $1,346,913,161 during its entire run. The trend continued with 2020’s Bad Boys for Life ($426,505,244), 2021’s F9: The Fast Saga ($726,229,501), 2021’s Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings ($432,243,292), and 2021’s Encanto ($250,243,662). One of the key factors in these moneymaking hits is the representation and how far that can go.
Representation on the big and little screens is something many production studios should consider when trying to mirror viewers. Studios need to make their programs relatable to the audiences to guarantee returns. For example, a USC study called The Annenberg Inclusion Initiative dispels the long-standing idea that Hollywood movies with female or minorities leads do poorly domestically or internationally compared to a white male cast.
The USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism reported, “This is a finding that cannot be ignored and is consistent with what activists, advocates, and artists have been saying for years,” from co-research author Professor Stacy L. Smith. She continues, “Stories with underrepresented leads/co-leads make money. Period.” The findings in the study also brought attention that audiences responded positively to authentic storytelling about diverse communities, which can go further past box-office dollars.
Certain movies’ recognition can contribute to the suggestion of representation in the film becoming a positive result. 2021’s King Richard—a story that circles around the father of tennis icons Venus and Serena Williams—has drawn massive acclaim from critics and the public. Joel Cohen’s The Tragedy of Macbeth features a mixed cast of performers and has been nominated for several awards. Apple TV’s CODA, whose plot and cast are part of the deaf community, has been on multiple top ten movie lists and has numerous nominations for the 2022 Oscars. An important thing to remember is that none of these movies would come to fruition without the people working behind the scenes.
Job Opportunities and Creativity
An inclusion rider would be very effective in this area. Bringing a broader demographic into your cast and crew drives innovation and helps with productivity; as employees feel more included, it increases morale and engagement. A study by McKinsey & Co. found that companies with a diverse set of gender, ethnic and cultural would result in a 33% increase in productivity. The McKinsey & Co. study can also be applied to a production setting. People from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds have studied and worked hard in their moviemaking craft and would be able to introduce newly invented ways in the storytelling process. Some studios and productions have taken notice of that idea.
In 2021, the streaming service Netflix spent $100 million to improve diversity in their filming department. In addition, the Netflix Fund for Creative Equity was created to invest in associations over the next five years to assist underrepresented groups in training and finding jobs in film and TV. In February of this year, IndieWire reported that “Universal Pictures was most likely to hire a woman of color,” and Amazon Prime led the pack by having fifteen percent of their movies directed by the same group. With general female directors, streamers like Amazon Prime had 37.5 percent of its original content directed by women, with Disney at 29 percent and HBO Max with 19.5 percent. But, of course, there are ways to keep those inclusive numbers rising and do more.
Fixing the Problem
Studios and productions can use methods to do their part in the journey for more inclusivity—first, a personal audit of the studios’ processes and cultures and establishing zero-tolerance policies for discrimination. Implementing inclusive norms and guidelines will ensure that all viewpoints will be shared in the work culture. In addition, these types of policies and support can help employees feel included.
Another method to consider is hiring diverse directors to bring in new and unique talent from underrepresented groups. Lastly, it’s always essential to remove stereotypical characteristics from their programs and focus more on making the personalities multi-dimensional. Being less biased and using counter-stereotypical habits opens the door to making characters of color identities stronger.
These methods may take time to implement fully, but change must happen for this industry to survive. Thousands—if not millions—of people are there waiting for their chance to write their stories or are mastering a craft in filmmaking to showcase an exciting and diverse narrative. The world has become a more inclusive setting, and it’s time for the film industry to reflect that as well.