Inclusion Writers – My bad, but not really

When Frances McDormand said “inclusion riders” during her acceptance speech at the #Oscars2018, I could’ve sworn she said “writers”. “Inclusion writers” made so much sense to me I even tweeted it. You see, I’m a writer. And writers are the people who include the characters in their stories. Whether it be a book, short story, screenplay or whatever, the writers are the ones creating the characters. It should be our job to be inclusive if the story so permits.


Frances McDormand speaks to the crowd after accepting her Oscar for her lead role in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. During her acceptance speech, she promoted the notion of an “inclusion rider” — setting off frenzied Google searches across the country. -Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP

It got me thinking about my own writing. Is it inclusive? So I went back to my books (kid lit). I realized I don’t really mention skin color, unless it’s an odd color like bluish or purple (it’s a fantasy series). So what does that mean? If I never mention skin color, my characters could well be of any race. If I say someone has light blonde hair and green eyes, why are we automatically assuming they are white? If I say brown hair and brown eyes, what color of skin do you see? My guess is people will see what reflects their reality.  As a writer, I can get away with not mentioning skin color, though I’m going to be thinking about that as I write from now on. I could hint at skin color in other ways. Hey, authors do that.

A similar thing happens with gender. My book is about fairies. There are boy and girl fairies, but for minor characters, sometimes I just say fairy. So what does the reader see? Once again, they’ll see what reflects their own experience.

But movies are a whole other level. If a script or book doesn’t specify skin color or gender, what we get is probably the director’s vision of things. Once things are put on visual there is no way to be ambiguous about it. People are the color that they are. All beautiful shades of skin. It seems in movies, the visions are skewed sometimes toward a particular experience.

Frances suggests actors use the “inclusion rider” and it makes a lot of sense for those ambiguous roles, but perhaps us writers could be more inclusive from the get-go. Maybe we should make sure to write those details in. I’ve read great writers who are already doing it. Some readers give them a hard time, but the more we do it, the more people will get used to it. Soon they will expect it, and eventually, even during the ambiguous scenes they will fill the blanks in full color.

Let’s all be inclusion writers!


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