While the ratings for last Sunday’s Oscars may have hit an all-time low, a high point included Best Actress winner Francis McDormand’s emphatic stating of “inclusion rider” at the end of her acceptance speech. Soon after, there was a flurry of online searches and social media activity on the relatively unknown contract provision — a provision that Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll partner Kalpana Kotagal has been hard at work on for months.
According to The National Law Journal’s interview with the civil rights and employment litigator, Kotagal and colleagues from the Media, Diversity and Social Change Initiative at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism have been discussing inclusion riders with Hollywood agents and lawyers for some time. Kotagal has also been working on the specific legal language within contracts that would require studios and other partners to employ diverse workers on set.
The inclusion rider is a version of the “Rooney Rule,” which addresses issues of inclusion and hiring in the film and television industry. Kotagal’s hope, according to the interview, is that if those with industry power get behind the change that the inclusion rider hopes to create, it will become an industry-wide practice.
For Kotagal, the spate of sexual harassment and sexual assault allegations in the Hollywood workplace and elsewhere reflect a systemic problem where women, people of color and other underrepresented minorities are not among industry and corporate leadership.
While one part of fixing the problem is putting those from underrepresented groups into more positions of power, the other part is about increasing diversity among the stories that are told. Says Kotagal, “There is a narrative problem in addition to a hiring and casting problem.”
So, ultimately, can this problem be fixed? Kotagal is optimistic.
“I would not do the work I do if I did not think this problem could be solved. I actually think the solutions are pretty clear …”
The solutions, concludes Kotagal, require creativity, focus and a willingness to make hard choices — but it can be done.