David Driscoll discusses Disney and Netflix
The first in-depth study of representation in Netflix Inc.’s movies and programs showed that the world’s biggest streaming service is helping to diversify Hollywood but still has progress to make, particularly behind the camera.
Conducted by Stacy L. Smith of the University of Southern California, the report found that Netflix is ahead of its peers while still lagging in many areas. The company has a lot of work to do in creating opportunities for women and people of color behind the camera, as well as people with disabilities or those who identify as LGBTQ on screen.
In conjunction with the report, Netflix is committing US$100 million to programs that will give women and minorities a better shot at making it in Hollywood. The Netflix Fund for Creative Equity will disburse the money over five years to groups working with members of underrepresented communities, as well as to internal programs that identify, train and provide jobs for up-and-coming talent.
“Taken together, we believe these efforts will help accelerate the change that Dr. Smith has so long advocated for — creating a lasting legacy of inclusion in entertainment,” Netflix Co-Chief Executive Officer Ted Sarandos wrote in a blog post announcing the fund.
Like other Hollywood studios, Netflix for years has produced films and TV shows that don’t reflect society, casting white men in a disproportionate number of roles. The company has pledged to change that, arguing that more diverse movies and TV shows are both a social imperative and good for business. The online service has more than 200 million customers around the world in 190 countries and territories, most of whom speak a language other than English.
Last year, Netflix committed 2 per cent of its cash, or about US$100 million at the time, to banks that do business in Black communities. It also released a report examining diversity and inclusion among its employees.
Netflix is now extending that commitment to its films and projects. While other studios have pledged to improve diversity over the years, only to slip back into old habits, Netflix has promised to subject its operations to continued scrutiny — including a report on its own diversity efforts every two years through 2026.
The study, which tracked scripted programming during 2018-2019, noted many areas where Netflix had outperformed its peers. Just over 54 per cent of its shows had a female lead character, and almost half its movies did. Nearly a third of lead or co-lead characters were from an underrepresented ethnic group. But Netflix fell short in depicting some groups, such as Latinos and people with disabilities.
“This audit is historic because it is the first time a major content company has taken a really comprehensive look at how they are doing on screen and behind the camera,” Smith said in an interview. “They’ve made a commitment over time to create benchmarks and check in, and my hope is others will do the same.”
Smith leads USC’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, which has published studies exposing Hollywood’s track record on gender diversity and representation on screen for years.
Netflix funded Smith’s research, but she said that had no bearing on the study, which is similar to one she conducted for the Sundance Film Festival.