When Frances McDormand closed her acceptance speech at the Oscars with the words “inclusion rider,” Hollywood listened, and it wasn’t long before A-listers such as Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Brie Larson, Michael B. Jordan and Paul Feig pledged their support. Now, insiders tell the Tracking Board that McDormand’s husband, Oscar-winning filmmaker Joel Coen, has taken his wife’s words to heart and plans to support inclusion riders on all of the future projects he produces with his brother, Ethan Coen.
This is particularly notable, as the Coens caused a stir two years ago with their response to criticisms of the casting of Hail, Caesar!, which like most of their films, features a largely white ensemble.
“You don’t sit down and write a story and say, ‘I’m going to write a story that involves four black people, three Jews, and a dog’ — right? If you don’t understand that, you don’t understand anything about how stories get written,” said Joel Coen. “It’s not an illegitimate thing to say there should be more diversity in an industry,” added Joel, but it is “an absolute, absurd misunderstanding of how things get made to single out any particular story and say, ‘Why aren’t there this, that, or the other thing? It’s a fundamental misunderstanding of how stories are written.”
Ethan Coen agreed with those sentiments, saying “it’s important to tell the story you’re telling in the right way, which might involve black people or people of whatever heritage or ethnicity — or it might not.”
Those comments led to headlines like this one, from Jezebel: “The Coen Brothers’ Thoughts on Diverse Casting Do Not Apply to Their Own Movies”; this one, from Reason: “Politically Incorrect: Coen Brothers Don’t Care If Their Movie Isn’t Diverse Enough”; and this one, from Data Lounge: “Coen Brothers Get Very Defensive When Asked Why Their Movies Are So White.”
Now, I may be in the minority here judging from those headlines, but as a writer, I understand what the Coen brothers were saying back then, or at least, trying to say — which is that Hollywood can’t be forced to be make strides when it comes to diversity onscreen, the shift has to be organic. That’s how real change will be made in the entertainment industry, not racial quotas. The Coen brothers and their imaginations are not the problem. They write the stories they write, and if their characters are white, black or green, then so be it.
Which is why it’s heartening to know that if the Coens don’t plan to change their process when it comes to writing and casting a film, which is entirely their prerogative, then they’re at least going to hire a diverse crew to help realize their vision, thereby supporting inclusion behind the camera. It’s a small but important step toward making their sets more inclusive environments where everyone’s voice is heard and creativity can blossom.
I’m told that this effort will begin with their next project, whatever that may be. The duo’s upcoming series The Ballad of Buster Scruggs was already in production at Netflix when the inclusion rider movement began gaining traction in Hollywood, culminating in McDormand’s fiery acceptance speech at the Oscars. The Coens are highly-respected auteurs, and it’s a relief to see them leading by example when it comes to this important issue.
Of course, the industry’s major guilds have yet to weigh in on inclusion riders, but the creatives who have adopted them so far have encouraged others in Hollywood to contact their attorneys for the appropriate legal language to be used in contracts.
Jeff Sneider | Editor in Chief