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Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Laying out data, Netflix boasts record on inclusivity

For years, academic studies have sought to capture inequalities in Hollywood and to hold studios accountable for making film and television that doesn’t reflect American demographics. Those studies have generally relied on box-office or ratings data, often leaving out streaming platforms.

By: AP | New York |
Updated: February 27, 2021 10:48:54 am
ma raineys black bottom, netflix, diversity in netflixNetflix also said it will create a fund of $100 million to bring more underrepresented groups into film and television. (Photo: David Lee/Netflix via AP)

Netflix on Friday released a study it commissioned from top academic researchers that shows the streaming giant is outpacing much of the film industry in the inclusivity of its original films and television series.

For years, academic studies have sought to capture inequalities in Hollywood and to hold studios accountable for making film and television that doesn’t reflect American demographics. Those studies have generally relied on box-office or ratings data, often leaving out streaming platforms.

Netflix is trying a different route with both more transparency and more company control. The streamer commissioned the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative to analyze its 2018 and 2019 original, live-action films and series, and presented the results to members of the press Thursday in a video presentation. The results were, as Annenberg Inclusion Initiative founder and director Stacy L. Smith noted, far more positive than most Annenberg reports, which have typically found only slow, sporadic improvement in the most popular films.

bridgerton Netflix is trying a different route with both more transparency and more company control. (Photo: Liam Daniel/Netflix via AP)

Netflix achieved roughly gender parity among lead characters in both film (48.4 per cent of leads were female) and TV (54.5 per cent) in 2018 and 2019. The study covers a total of 126 movies and 180 series. It does not include documentary or unscripted series or films, animation, international productions or content hosted on Netflix that it did not itself produce.

Netflix films were more likely to have women directing (23.1 per cent), writing (25.2 per cent) or producing (29 per cent) than the top-grossing movies of 2018 and 2019. The correlation isn’t a perfect one since Netflix releases both large and small budget films whereas the majority of top movies at the box office come from higher-priced productions.

In Netflix films and series, 31.9 per cent of leads were from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups. That trails demographics (about 40 per cent of the U.S. population according to census data) but Netflix showed marked improvement between 2018 (26.4 per cent) and 2019 (37.3 per cent).

“The point of this benchmark is to constantly be held accountable,” said Scott Stuber, vice president of global film. He said 2020 films like Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Da 5 Bloods and Old Guard show Netflix is still progressing. “But the whole auspice here is not to pat ourselves on the back. It’s to say publicly here’s what we’re trying to accomplish and we’re going to be held accountable,” he said.

Da 5 Bloods It’s a level of transparency that traditional studios, and other streaming companies, haven’t before embraced. (Photo: David Lee/Netflix via AP)

The study will continue for the next six years. It’s a level of transparency that traditional studios, and other streaming companies, haven’t before embraced. In a blog post Friday, Netflix chief executive Ted Sarandos said he hoped the move would spur wider change.

“By better understanding how we are doing, we hope to stimulate change not just at Netflix but across our industry more broadly,” wrote Sarandos.

Smith didn’t respond to questions about Netflix’s conditions for the study, or how much the company paid for it.

Last month, Netflix released its first inclusion report, showing that 47 per cent of its global workforce is female and 46 per cent of its U.S. employees are from underrepresented racial or ethnic groups.

Not all of the findings were positive. Speaking characters in Netflix movies were disproportionately male (about 64 per cent). Only 16.9 per cent of film directors were from underrepresented racial or ethnic groups, and the figures on film producers and screenwriters weren’t any better. Among series creators, only 12.2% were from an underrepresented racial or ethnic group. Latino representational lagged especially, accounting for just 4 per cent of film leads and 1.7 per cent of series leads. LGBTQ leads were featured in only 2.3 per cent of Netflix films and series, though 12 per cent of the U.S. population identifies as LGBTQ.

Stuber and Bela Bajaria, vice president of global series, said the results show Netflix where it needs work. But citing that Netflix improved from 2018 to 2019 in nearly all metrics, Smith praised the company for making inclusivity central in its operations.

“If we are making a show that another studio is producing and we’re doing it from the beginning, from episode one, we have all of the discussions,” said Bajaria. “How many people of color are directing? How many women are directing? Who’s in the writers’ room? We have those conversations all the time.”

Bajaria said Netflix has benefited from not having just a few token non-white series but a pipeline full of diversity. “More at-bats” for minority creators, she said. She cited shows like the Shonda Rhimes-produced Bridgerton and the Spanish language La Casa de Papel (Money Heist) as examples of how Netflix is remaking what’s traditionally been a success.

“We have big hit shows that don’t look like what you’d expect or maybe what the system has always told you,” said Bajaria. “I do feel like for us, it’s having way more stories than the one failure.”

Netflix also said it will create a fund of $100 million to bring more underrepresented groups into film and television. The Netflix Fund for Creative Equity will be distributed within initiatives at Netflix and in organizations outside the company over the next five years.

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