Frances McDormand introduced household audiences to the term “inclusion rider” during her instantly iconic Oscar acceptance speech this spring. At Wednesday night’s Crystal + Lucy Awards, the “Fargo” and “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” star explained the origins of her very public plea to Hollywood.
“I’m an actor, and a producer, but I have more experience as an actor, and this is one of the reasons why I should not be allowed to improvise,” she told the crowd at the Beverly Hilton for Women in Film, Los Angeles’ annual gala fundraiser. McDormand credited UTA agent Blair Kohan for the reference; two nights before the Academy Awards, the women sat next to each other at a party and the exec asked if the actress had heard of inclusion riders.
“I have been vaguely aware of and completely intrigued by the series of USC Annenberg studies on gender parity in film and television, which were commissioned by Women in Film and the Sundance Institute,” McDormand said. “But I didn’t know that the author of the studies had taken the next step and created an actual working legal tool.”
Cut to the standing ovation she received at the Oscars. “In the excitement of having all those women rise to their feet and stand with me in that room, I got flustered, and I improvised, and I said” — here, she and outgoing Women in Film president Cathy Schulman held up matching red strips of paper that each spelled out “Inclusion Rider” in black letters; McDormand even turned around and stretched her banner across her butt.
“Little did I know. Now I know a lot more. And I’m here tonight to take some responsibility for my actions, and to restate a call to action. If I may use a sporting metaphor: if you want to go fast, go it alone; if you want to go far, do it together … Can we successfully legislate morality? Perhaps not. But we can ask our better selves to go forward together, to take us farther than we have gone before.”
On stage, McDormand cued up a video, “45 Years of Advocacy Celebration,” charting the women’s movement during Women in Film’s history, and brought more than 20 female industry pioneers to the stage, including “Mudbound” and “Black Panther” cinematographer Rachel Morrison, “Boys Don’t Cry” director Kimberly Peirce, and Sundance Institute Executive Director Keri Putnam. She also introduced USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative founder and director Dr. Stacy L. Smith.
McDormand’s remarks began, “Greetings women, women in film, the men who support them, and all of us who identify as other. Other is what I myself was for many of the past 35 years in the industry, although I have managed to build a pretty damn good career on being marginalized.”
She then recounted discovering her feminist awakening, as a 15-year-old in 1972. “Someone told me that the definition of feminism is equal pay for equal work. That seemed like a good idea to me. I was also told that I could have it all, and lo and behold, I did. But many of you haven’t. Many of you haven’t, and we are still feminists, which means that there is still not equal pay for equal work. And that is not okay by me. Tonight we celebrate some extraordinary women who didn’t think it was okay, either. This conversation is decades old, and it is about parity, artistic expression, and inclusion. And I have this feeling, in my gut, that times are changing.”