If you watched the 2018 Academy Awards, you definitely did not miss actress Frances McDormand’s speech, especially the last two words that she left the crowd with: “Inclusion Rider.”
“I have two words to leave with you tonight, ladies and gentlemen: inclusion rider,” said McDormand, winner of the ‘Best Actress’ award. Soon after, the phrase became the most searched item on Google.
So, what is an inclusion rider? Simply put: It’s a stipulation that actors and actresses can ask (or demand) to have inserted into their contracts, which would require a certain level of diversity among a film’s cast and crew, according to NPR.
The idea for inclusion riders was developed by Stacy Smith, founder and director of the University of Southern California’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, and drafted with Indian American civil rights attorney Kalpana Kotagal of the law firm Cohen Milstein and producer and actor Fanshen Cox DiGiovanni, according to the Washington Post.
The Washington, D.C.-based lawyer told The Post that she was inundated with messages ever since McDormand made the phrase instantly famous. Interviews with reporters from all over the world filled her day, she said.
But the mother of two has long been fighting for inclusion and equity and diversity, not just in Hollywood, but for “banana pickers, chicken pluckers, hourly wage workers, disabled postal carriers, nurses.”
“Those are the folks on whose behalf I litigate every day,” Kotagal told the publication. “In those workplaces where things have gone so profoundly wrong, those are the folks on whose behalf we advocate.”
Kotagal told The Post that some of the cases that she has supported include “fighting for overtime back pay for chicken processors at poultry plants, taking on a network of hospitals in Albany, N.Y., accusing them of conspiring to keep the wages of all their nurses artificially low, and fighting for equal pay for more than 44,000 female employees at the retail jewelry chain Sterling, which owns Kay, Zales and Jared.” Sterling denied those charges.
She is also preparing to take on Walmart stores in Southern states where a suit says managers underpaid and underpromoted women for years. The company rejected those claims.
“While it is truly important to transform the process of hiring in Hollywood, if we don’t think about what are the workplace conditions to which other women are subject in other workplaces around the country, we’re missing an incredibly important opportunity,” she told The Post.
Kotagal’s parents, both medical professionals, immigrated to the U.S. from India and settled in Cincinnati, Ohio. And even though she and her sister were born and raised in the U.S., she said “we still were a South Asian family in Cincinnati, Ohio. And I was always ‘other.’”
She worked as an advocate and activist for years in Washington, before going to law school and returning to the nation’s capital with the power of the law behind her convictions, she said.
Kotagal is also currently serving as an advisor to noted filmmakers on a film addressing issues of gender pay disparities, according to her law firm.
Kotagal attended Stanford University, where she was a Morris K. Udall Scholar and graduated with honors. She earned her J.D. cum laude from the University of Pennsylvania, where she was a James Wilson Fellow. Kotagal was Articles Editor of the University of Pennsylvania Law Review.