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Netflix shows inclusion progress. But Latinos are still left out

A scene from Shondaland's "Bridgerton" on Netflix.
Regé-Jean Page and Phoebe Dynevor in a scene from Shondaland’s “Bridgerton” on Netflix.
(Liam Daniel / Netflix)

Netflix received broadly high marks for diversity and inclusion in its movies and TV shows when it came to gender and people of color, compared to the broader entertainment industry, according to an extensive new report.

But the streaming giant fell short in its representation of certain groups, including Latinos, the LGBTQ community and people with disabilities.

The USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, which regularly takes Hollywood studios to task for their shortcomings on diversity, on Friday published a detailed report studying representation on and off camera for 126 U.S. Netflix movies and 180 scripted shows in 2018 and 2019. The report, led by USC professor Stacy L. Smith, compared Netflix’s numbers to figures from the broader industry as well as the U.S. population.

Netflix executives said they will use the 36-page report, which addressed gender, race and ethnicity, sexual orientation and disability, to serve as a benchmark to measure progress toward greater representation. The Los Gatos company, which commissioned the study, said it will release similar reports with USC every two years through 2026. (Read the full report).

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As the streaming wars heat up, Netflix is not just aiming for big-name directors, but also making an effort to support first-time filmmakers. It’s part of a long-term strategy to build the company’s feature film business.

“We’ve released this report in the interests of transparency,” Netflix co-Chief Executive Ted Sarandos wrote in a blog post. “Because without this kind of information it’s very hard to judge whether we’re improving or not. And the report makes clear that while Netflix has made advances in representation year-over-year, we still have a long way to go.”

The report comes after a year in which the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police and the resulting protests revived criticism of the entertainment industry for its shoddy track record of giving opportunities to people of color. Multiple studios and media companies donated money to anti-racist organizations and promised programs to break down barriers to inclusion.

Netflix, which has worked with filmmakers from underrepresented groups including Dee Rees, Laverne Cox and Yance Ford, on Friday said it will invest $100 million dollars over the next five years in groups that help underrepresented communities in TV and film as well as Netflix programs to find, train and hire new talent.

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The creation of the Netflix Fund for Creative Equity follows the company’s commitments to Ghetto Film School, Film Independent’s Project Involve, Firelight Media and Black Public Media.

The USC report found that on-camera representation of racial and ethnic groups improved over time in key areas.

The percentage of leads and coleads in Netflix shows and movies from underrepresented groups rose from 26.4% in 2018 to 37.3% in 2019. During those two years, Netflix’s percentage of nonwhite leads and coleads in movies (35.7%) was greater than the 100 top-grossing box office films during the same period of time (28%).

Behind the camera, however, only 16.9% of Netflix film directors were from underrepresented groups, compared to 20.5% for the top 100 theatrical movies. There was no significant change from 2018 to 2019, the report stated.

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Of TV series creators, 12.2% were from an underrepresented racial or ethnic group, roughly in line with the broader industry (10.4%). The percentage of nonwhite Netflix creators rose from 7.6% in 2018 to 15.9% the following year. About 15% of TV producers were underrepresented, which was less than the industry average according to USC, citing Writers Guild of America figures.

Some groups were better represented than others. Black and African American people were 18.9% of speaking characters in film and 16% in TV series, compared to 13.4% of the population.

But Latinos were far behind, with 5.9% of speaking parts in movies and shows despite being 18.5% of the population. Behind the camera, just one film director and 2.7% of TV creators were Latino.

The study also found that women of color from specific groups were absent from much of Netflix’s content. Latinas were not seen in 72.2% of Netflix films, while 56.3% lacked Asian women and girls. In series, Latinas were nowhere to be seen in 65.6% of shows, and 42.2% were missing Asian women.

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Broadly, women were proportionately represented in Netflix movies and shows with 52% of stories driven by women and girls on camera, though just 38.8% of all speaking characters identified as female. Of film directors, 23.1% were women, which was significantly higher than for the top-grossing box office movies in 2018 and 2019.

For LGBTQ-identified characters, there was significant room for improvement, the report noted. In film and TV, 2.3% of Netflix content had LGBTQ leads or coleads, while about 12% of the U.S. population identifies as LGBTQ, according to GLAAD figures USC cited in its study. A recent Gallup poll indicated that 5.6% of U.S. adults identify as LGBT. “Netflix substantially underrepresented this community in its storytelling,” the report read.

Netflix’s global TV head Bela Bajaria, in a webinar discussing the findings, said she was surprised by the LGBTQ data.

“I almost fell off my chair,” she said. “I feel like we’re so active in storylines, and always have been, with big impactful roles and shows. I think what the study doesn’t show sometimes is the prominence or impact of that role.”

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Only 5.3% of Netflix stories centered on leads or coleads with disabilities, though more than 27% of the U.S. population lives with a disability, USC’s study said. Just 2.1% of speaking characters were shown to have a disability.

In a Thursday webinar discussing the findings, Netflix executives said they expect the numbers to improve with future reports. The company has released a substantial number of films and shows since 2019 centering on nonwhite characters, women and LGBTQ people, including “Bridgerton,” “Never Have I Ever,” “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” “The Old Guard” and “Da 5 Bloods.”

“I feel like we’re moving in the right direction, but the whole auspice here is not to pat ourselves on the back,” said Netflix Vice President of Global Film Scott Stuber. “It’s to say publicly, ‘Here’s what we’re trying to accomplish, and we’re going to be held accountable and have a benchmark that we constantly try to improve on.’”


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