Matt Damon on His Decision to Adopt Inclusion Riders: "We Needed to Do Better"

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Matt Damon at Thursday's Water.org event

The actor opened up about the “tool” he hopes will “combat implicit bias” in Hollywood.

Matt Damon is still trying to enact change.

For years he has used his platform to advocate for countless causes — including his own charity, Water.org, which he co-founded with partner Gary White in 2009 to tackle the global water crisis — and he’s not stopping anytime soon.

While celebrating World Water Day on Thursday with White at the unveiling of Water.org’s “Water Ripples” by Stella Artois, an interactive art installation in New York City’s Grand Central Terminal’s Vanderbilt Hall, Damon opened up to The Hollywood Reporter about pushing for more diversity on film and TV sets.

Earlier this month, Fanshen Cox DiGiovanni, head of strategic outreach at Damon and Ben Affleck’s Pearl Street Films, announced that the production company would adopt inclusion riders for future projects. While the idea of contracts to guarantee gender and racial diversity in films made waves after Frances McDormand’s impassioned best actress speech at the 2018 Oscars, Damon said that he and other industry vets had been exploring the notion before it entered the public zeitgeist.

“There have been a lot of back channel conversations that have been going on,” he said. “I would say most of the people I know are activated around this and talking about this. There’s no reason our industry shouldn’t look like our country demographically.”

Damon continued: “We hired Fanshen a few years ago with issues of inclusion because we needed to do better. And she brought us the Annenberg study that was done out of USC, which was just the data collection on the real numbers industry-wide. And they were horrible. It was alarming and embarrassing. So she kind of challenged us with that.”

According to the filmmaker, he responded “by asking, ‘What’s actionable? What can we do?’” That’s when Cox DiGiovanni connected Damon, Affleck and their fellow Pearl Street colleagues with Stacy L. Smith, Ph.D., director of USC Annenberg’s Media, Diversity & Social Change Initiative, who conducted the study and first proposed the idea of inclusion riders in an op-ed written for THR in 2014.

“Dr. Smith started to talk to us and many, many others across the industry — actors to directors to producers, lawyers, agents, studio heads and executives,” Damon said. “Really, she was having a lot of these conversations concurrently and suggested an inclusion rider as a way to combat implicit bias. Because the implicit bias is just so strong and the numbers bore that out.”

Thanks to the work of civil rights attorney Kalpana Kotagal, a partner at Cohen Milstein, a blueprint was drafted for those who plan on using inclusion riders, which Damon sees being implemented on a “case-by-case basis.” Though the practice is in its early stages, the Downsizing star is anticipating a positive outcome.

“Hopefully, if you can use it as a tool to combat implicit bias, when Dr. Smith does her study again, we’ll see better inclusion in Hollywood. That’s the hope,” he told THR. “The rider itself is not the point. That’s the means to the end. The point is inclusion and hopefully this is the tool that can get us there.”

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