At this year’s Academy Awards ceremony in March, some viewers were confused by Frances McDormand’s acceptance speech. McDormand, who won the best actress award for “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” ended her speech with the following message: “Ladies and gentleman: inclusion rider.” To what was McDormand referring? According to the Washington Post, “an inclusion rider is a stipulation that the cast and/or the crew in a film reflect real demographics, including a proportionate number of women, minorities, LGBTQ individuals and people with disabilities.”
Last week, Warner Brothers and its affiliates, HBO and Turner Broadcasting which are owned by AT&T, became the first major media companies to release a policy meant to “ensure that diverse actors and crew members are considered for film, television and other projects, and to work with directors and producers who also seek to promote greater diversity and inclusion.”
Though the policy does not go as far as demanding that studios meet target numbers, advocates believe it is a good first step toward making the cast and crews of TV shows and movies more closely reflective of audiences.
University of Southern California’s Annenburg Inclusion Initiative studies diversity and inclusion in the entertainment industry. This summer, the Initiative, headed up by Dr. Stacy L. Smith, released its annual study: “Inequality in 1,100 Popular Films.” Among other things, the study found that “characters with disability face a deficit on screen in film. … Only 2.5 percent of all speaking characters were depicted with a disability.” Since 20 percent of Americans have some sort of disability, it’s obvious that the big screen does not represent a proportionate number of people with disabilities.
Meanwhile, a 2016 study commissioned by the Ruderman Family Foundation found when characters in the top 10 TV shows did include characters who had disabilities, 95 percent of those characters were played by actors who don’t have disabilities.
If the industry follows recommendations of the University of Southern California’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, 20 percent of cast and crew members in TV and movies would be people with disabilities. That would be a game-changer for people with disabilities seeking jobs in the entertainment industry. It would also please audiences interested in seeing their own lives depicted in film. Additionally, showing more people with disabilities in TV and film, would do wonders to raise awareness about people with disabilities — their struggles, concerns, and especially their talents and triumphs.
In recent years, members of the disabilities community have been pleased to see more characters with disabilities on TV and in the movies. From beloved characters like “Glee’s” Becky Jackson and Artie Abrams to “Breaking Bad’s” RJ Mitte to “Game of Thrones” Tyrion Lannister to newer characters such as JJ in “Speechless” and Dustin in “Stranger Things” characters with disabilities are more common than ever before. While we’re happy these actors have broken through, Hollywood clearly has a long way to go. Hopefully, Warner Brother’s recent announcement will be the beginning of real change.