At the 2018 Academy Awards, Frances McDormand closed a traditional Best Actress blah-blah-blah-I’d-like-to-thank-the-Academy acceptance speech with this: “I have two words to leave with you tonight, ladies and gentlemen: inclusion rider!”
It was said so seriously, so oddly out of cadence with the rest of the personal, heartfelt vibe of her remarks. It was industry lingo, and clearly insider baseball. Ever the nerd for the real story, I of course immediately looked it up. An inclusion rider, I learned, is a provision in an actor’s contract that ensures that the cast and crew are diverse, and specifically that there is an inclusion of women, people of color, LGBTQ, and people with disabilities.
I was struck by the message and the medium. And, oh, so inspired!
First, you have this fancy-pants night, where everyone is discussing #metoo in Hollywood, in every form from inside jokes to outright demands, and basically congratulating themselves for waking to the pain that finally is being voiced. And, here comes dear Frances with an actual tool to use. An actual real-life, immediately practicable tool! She only uttered two words, but she really spoke volumes. In my rough translation, guided only by my limited Francesian language skills, I swear I heard her say: “Listen, kids, I’m a seasoned adult who has been around the block, and knows that I can use my power to make a change. You can, too. And here’s the simplest tool of all. Psst, it’s so simple, in fact, that if you choose NOT to use it, that’s just a matter of you deciding that it doesn’t really matter to you, after all. And we are all going to know that you choose not to fight for us when it would have been so easy for you to do so.” In the months following her speech, serious Hollywood heavyweights started demanding inclusion riders. You go, you Boss Bitch. Way to make it happen.
Second, she used her power, her privilege, her connections, her spotlight to punch this night in the face, but with grace, and remind everyone that power and access and privilege mean jack shit if we don’t also amplify and raise up others as we, ourselves, climb. So, while I don’t have many opportunities to demand inclusion riders — “I’m ready for my closeup, Mr. Demille! — I do get invited to more events than I can attend. As a raging introvert, I mostly look for excuses to get out of all of them. But, when I do attend, I attend for several reasons: the event or the organizer or the cause matters to me, there will be interesting people in attendance, or best of all, it’s an event, organization, or cause that matters to someone I hold dear, someone who has asked for my help, and I know that there will be interesting people in attendance that she needs to meet. I actively think of people to invite to sit at my table, or as my +1, and then I make sure that they know who they are meeting, how to engage, and why it will be important to them. I am lucky to be included on so many guest lists and luckier still that I can use this power, this privilege, these connections, this spotlight to raise up others as I climb.
So, I ask you: what are you doing with what you’ve got, wherever it is on your journey, to bring others along with you?