Is Hollywood's culture ready for real diversity?
When Oscar-winning actress Frances McDormand lit up Oscar night with her puzzling plea for "inclusion riders," civil right lawyer Kalpana Kotogal was watching the event a continent away in Washington and almost leaped out of her seat.
"I was completely floored," she told me in a telephone interview the next morning.
She was, after all, one of the few people in the country who knew what the heck McDormand was talking about. An "inclusion rider" is a contract provision created in 2016 by Kotogal and Stacy Smith, who researches gender equality in film and television at the University of Southern California.
"I have two words to leave with you tonight, ladies and gentlemen: inclusion rider," McDormand said at the end of a rousing acceptance speech for her best actress Oscar for "Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri."
McDormand had urged Meryl Streep and all of the other female nominees in the star-studded crowd to stand up. She reminded the audience that every woman standing had stories to tell and projects that needed financing.
After a year marked by the rise of a "Me, Too" and "Time's Up" movement and a tidal wave of claims against Harvey Weinstein and other powerful media moguls for raping, groping and other wretched behavior, the pushback appeared with McDormand's speech to enter a new phase.
Moving beyond the black-gown and colored-ribbon protests of recent Golden Globes and Oscar nights, McDormand's "inclusion rider" talk called on a new form of direct action: Hollywood women don't need to wait for others to reform the industry's male-centered cultured of self-congratulatory mirror-kissing.
Women with clout can use their growing leverage to enact change where change usually happens in Hollywood and other big industries: contract negotiations.
(Cue the sound track: "Sisters Are Doin' It for Themselves.")
Will it work? Earlier Oscar winner Brie Larson tweeted immediately her commitment to the inclusion rider, adding "Who's with me?"