In April, the 64th annual Grammys became the first major awards ceremony to implement an inclusion rider for on- and offstage personnel — everyone from stage crew to presenters. Designed in partnership with online racial justice organization Color of Change and formally adopted by the Recording Academy in late 2021, the rider mandates that one-third of the applicant pools for those jobs are members of underrepresented backgrounds, including women; Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC); Latinx; and LGBTQ+ individuals.
Today, academy CEO Harvey Mason Jr. tells Billboard, the organization and its production partner, Fulwell 73, have met that mandate. “This is game-changing,” he says. “Fulwell was an amazing partner. To see them embrace it and this process where we’re reaching out into different communities and finding applicants, that was the whole purpose and the beauty of why we’re doing this.”
For the April 3 telecast, 39% of the production staff and crew hired were women and 24% were BIPOC, according to Mason and Ryan Butler, the academy’s vp of diversity, equity and inclusion. “We strongly encouraged for the pool of applicants and the slate of candidates to be diverse,” Mason says, noting that while the academy does not have concrete figures from previous years recorded, “I can just anecdotally tell you it’s nowhere close to these numbers.”
He recalls walking around backstage, seeing “people that you might not have seen five or 10 years ago. You’ve heard in times past that maybe there wasn’t a pool available for certain people or for a certain skill set that was hirable, [but] those people are there and we’re employing them.”
The rider was also in effect for Grammy Week events such as the MusiCares Person of the Year gala honoring Joni Mitchell, where over 30% of the production staff identified as BIPOC and women represented at least 50% of the staff and crew. At the Recording Academy Honors Presented by the Black Music Collective, over 80% of the production staff identified as BIPOC and women represented more than 67% of the production crew and staff, according to the academy.
Color of Change aided in the recruitment effort, coordinating with resources like the Array Crew, a database founded by director Ava DuVernay that focuses on production staff of color and other underrepresented groups.
“I am also really proud of the work we were able to do for accessibility,” Butler says. “For the first time, we had a ramp onstage that was not an afterthought but rendered into the actual design. We had [American Sign Language] interpreters inside the theater, which was a first for the Grammys.”
“For the first time in the history of the award show, there was an accountability mechanism that guided production partners in ensuring people who have been historically and systematically excluded from the industry had a chance to be a part of it,” says Kelle Rozell, chief marketing and storytelling officer at Color of Change. “We look forward to continuing the momentum of moving the music industry beyond conversation and intention and toward actionable racial justice.”
Butler says the academy is willing to share the rider, along with its experiences implementing it, with other award shows, though so far only the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, which puts on the Golden Globes, has reached out. In the meantime, the academy is analyzing this past year’s data to see how it can further progress.
Above all, Mason says, implementing the rider proved that increasing diversity on- and offstage “is accomplishable.” And the academy’s effort to further that work is just beginning. “I don’t want to get comfortable and to say, ‘Oh, we did it.’ We’re moving forward. We’re going to keep looking at this.”