'Together we're powerful': Actor Rima Kallingal on Frances McDormand's Oscar speech

Rima Kallingal said that many women actors who'd shared the Oscar speech had stayed mum when they should have publicly taken a stance.
'Together we're powerful': Actor Rima Kallingal on Frances McDormand's Oscar speech
'Together we're powerful': Actor Rima Kallingal on Frances McDormand's Oscar speech
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When Frances McDormand received the Oscar for Best Actress on Monday, she did something which left many with questions.

First, she asked all the female nominees at the Oscars to stand up. And as they did so, you could see how they stood out in the crowd too, because they were far less in number compared to their male counterparts.

Second, Frances said, “I am going to leave you with two words: Inclusion rider.” After a heartbeat, when the crowd was possibly trying to figure out what she meant, they burst into applause as she exited the stage.

Needless to say, people turned to the Internet to search what an “inclusion rider” is.

Late on Monday, Malayalam actor Rima Kallingal shared a video on Facebook. Titled, “The Data Behind Hollywood’s Sexism”, it’s a TED talk by researcher Stacy Smith, who first described the inclusion rider and what it is.

Stacy, whose team has been studying the top 100 highest grossing Hollywood films in the US each year, found some truly alarming results when it came to intersectional representation of women - whether they were given speaking roles, if they were from the LGBTQIA community, were disabled, or non-white individuals.

In her 15-minute talk, she paints a bleak picture of how women – not just in pivotal roles, but in smaller roles as well – have been facing erasure in major Hollywood films. Stacy also points out that misconceptions about audiences ensure that stories centered around women are not seen as viable or financially lucrative by filmmakers.

In India, apart from a few women actors like Parvathy, Rima Kallingal, Nayanthara, Sruthi Hariharan, Jyothika, Kangana Ranaut, Swara Bhaskar and Kalki Koechlin who have spoken up against sexism and misogyny in films, the rest have remained mum. There is apparent discomfort with openly associating with feminism, especially among Bollywood A-listers, even though their actions indicate some sort of belief in the ideology.

Rima pointed out the same thing in her post. “Many actresses who shared the speech today on social media are those who shied away from publicly taking a stand when needed. Let this speech inspire and educate us women of our power when we stand together, the need to talk aloud about the real issues and understanding our individual roles in the times we live in,” she said.

Stacy gives a few solutions towards the end of her speech, and one of them is the inclusion rider.

She says that industry A-listers, who can state the terms of their film contract, can include an equity clause or an inclusion rider into their contract.

Stacy explains that there are 40-45 speaking or named characters in a feature film. About 8-10 of them are important (except for Avengers, which has more number of pivotal characters, she says). The inclusion rider must say that save the prominent characters, the remaining 30-35 roles should reflect the demography of the place where the story is set, and the world we are living in, which is a way to ensure better representation of intersectionality and women.

Apart from A-listers, studios can also include a similar clause in their dealings.

When Stacy heard about Frances giving a shout-out to her work, she told The Guardian that she was “utterly elated”.

“The real goal is to counter bias in the auditioning and casting process,” she said. She added that the contract could also include a provision for a penalty which would be levied on the distributor if the film failed to meet the requirements. This fund could be used to give assistance to women directors and other underrepresented groups.

Rima, in her Facebook post, pointed out that while women actors in Hollywood were increasingly speaking up about underrepresentation, sexism and sexual harassment in the film industry, the vocalisation of these long prevalent issues has not quite reached India yet.

“In times when I have seen fellow women colleagues and comrades stay silent and stay away from movements where every woman should have stood together, such brilliant moments are truly inspirational,” Rima wrote on Facebook.

Indeed, the last few months have seen several inspiring speeches from Hollywood A-listers. Oprah Winfrey’s powerhouse speech at the Golden Globes where she said that sexual predators’ time was up, Meryl Streep’s rousing address at the Golden Globes calling out US President Donald Trump’s xenophobia and anti-migrant sentiment,  singer Halsey’s powerful poem about women’s struggle at the women’s march are some cases in point.

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