Matt Damon, Ben Affleck and Paul Feig adopt ‘inclusion riders’: ‘It’s just common sense’

Matt Damon, Ben Affleck and Paul Feig have committed to adopting an “inclusion rider” for their companies’ films as the diversity agreement that Frances McDormand promoted in her Oscars speech continues to spread within Hollywood and other industries.

The public pledges from the high-profile actors and directors to embrace inclusion riders – a contract clause stipulating diversity in casts and crews – has increased pressure on other celebrities and studios to follow suit, and comes as businesses outside of entertainment are also exploring the concept.

“It’s not that hard to do, and it’s just common sense,” Feig, the director of Bridesmaids and the Ghostbusters remake, told the Guardian on Tuesday. “I feel like the people who don’t do it now and the studios and companies that don’t do it now are moving backward, not forward.”

Director Paul Feig on the inclusion rider: ‘I feel like the people who don’t do it now are moving backward, not forward.’

Director Paul Feig on the inclusion rider: ‘I feel like the people who don’t do it now are moving backward, not forward.’ Photograph: Paul Buck/EPA

The inclusion rider idea went viral earlier this month after McDormand, who won best actress, gave a live shout-out to the contract addendum, which was conceived by Stacy Smith, a University of Southern California professor who studies representation in media.

The rider is designed to sets objectives for inclusion on screen and behind the camera, specifying targets for underrepresented groups, including women, people of color, LGBT people and people with disabilities. The hope is that A-list actors could integrate the inclusion rider into contracts, which would help eliminate bias in the hiring and casting process and would produce films that more accurately reflect real-world diversity.

Actors actors Brie Larson and Michael B Jordan were the first to declare their support after the Oscars, and Pearl Street Films, the production company founded by Affleck and Damon, pledged its commitment on Monday.

Affleck and Damon have not said whether they plan to use inclusion riders when appearing in films outside of their company, and their representatives did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

“It’s really behind the scenes where it will make a difference and is much needed for our company,” said Feig, who announced on Tuesday that his Feigco Entertainment would adopt inclusion riders for future film and TV projects. Feig, who is also the creator of the cult teen TV show Freaks and Geeks, said he has long focused on representation and gender parity in his casts and that the contractual agreement would make that commitment more formal and ensure it extends to the crew.

“It’s the right thing to do,” Feig said. “It’s up to artists and film-makers to set the example, then the studios have to follow.”

Kalpana Kotagal, a civil rights lawyer in Washington who crafted the inclusion rider language, said there has been overwhelming interest since the Oscars and that she hopes to see it spread from individual actors to agencies, production companies and the studios.

“It could have tremendous reach,” she said. Kotagal said the idea is applicable to the technology sector, financial services, media and many other fields. “Pick your industry. Anywhere somebody has bargaining power, there is room to negotiate for better employment practices.”

The actor Brie Larson was one of the first to declare her support for the diversity contract after the Oscars.

The actor Brie Larson was one of the first to declare her support for the diversity contract after the Oscars. Photograph: John Shearer/Getty Images

Film and television “help shape the cultural narratives and the norms we all live with”, she said. “There is a moral imperative on the industry to get this right.”

Nicole Sanchez, the founder of Vaya Consulting, which works with tech companies on diversity and inclusion, said that within days of McDormand’s speech, she had received dozens of calls from parties interested in inclusion riders.

“My phone is ringing off the hook,” said Sanchez, who explained that inclusion riders could be used when powerful tech executives are negotiating job offers and could also be applicable to conferences and speaking gigs. A candidate could demand that a corporation make a commitment to close the gender pay gap within a certain timeframe, for example.

In Silicon Valley, people could further use the contract clause to demand that companies or major events use vendors that are unionized and pay living wages, Sanchez added.

“This is something that is so tangible, and now it has some mainstream affirmation,” said Sanchez, who said she has been in touch with large tech firms and people in advertising, medicine, academia, consumer products and other sectors. “It’s been a rallying point.”