Inclusion Riders Make ‘First Match’ A Game-Changing Netflix Film


First Match Trailer Netflix

What does a movie look like when filmmakers use that so-called “inclusion rider” that has become a Hollywood buzzword of late?

Exhibit A: The film festival hit that begins streaming Friday on Netfix, First Match. (The NSFW trailer is here.)

“Apparently we did have an inclusion rider, but we didn’t know that was the term,” first-time writer/director Olivia Newman says about making her coming-of-age drama about a teenage girl Monique (played by Elvire Emanuelle), who joins the all-boys’ wrestling team as a way to connect with her father.

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Inclusion riders, which entered public discourse when Frances McDormand announced them in her empowering Oscar speech this year, refer to contractual requirements that a production’s cast and crew be diverse and representative. In recent weeks, big names including Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Michael B. Jordan and Paul Feig have announced that they’re formally adopting inclusion riders in projects going forward.

But Newman, a self-described “big-time feminist,” was ahead of the curve. The filmmaker has degree in feminist studies from Vassar, volunteered at the Créteil International Women’s Film Festival in Paris, worked for film distributor Women Make Movies and got her master’s in screenwriting and directing at Columbia.

“I know how important it is to offer opportunities to women,” she says.

So for First Match, Newman and her producers required that there be an equal number of men and women on any list of potential hires.

“It’s not as easy as it sounds, because there’s less women working in all roles in film, so you have to dig a little deeper to find the ones who are just as good as their male counterparts,” she says.

She wound up with a crew made up of 60% women, who filled roles including production designer, editor, costume designer and cinematographer.

“It was crucial to me that I hire a female (cinematographer), because this is a really intimate story about a young woman, with so many complex emotions,” says Newman, in a year when Mudbound’s Rachel Morrison became the first Oscar-nominated female cinematographer. 

The film’s teen protagonist grows up in foster care and is desperate to get attention from her estranged father, who just got out of jail. The character of Monique was inspired by a girl Newman met in Brooklyn’s Brownsville neighborhood, where Newman filmed the First Match short that preceded the feature.

“In the end, I ended up with the best crew possible, regardless of gender,” she says. Her film focuses on those underrepresented on the big screen: the relationship between a black woman and her father, wrapped in a female-led sports drama that’s not afraid to show blood, sweat and tears.