Study shows Netflix is getting more inclusive, but more can be done

Only around three in 10 leads or co-leads are from a minority ethnic group.
Only around three in 10 leads or co-leads are from a minority ethnic group.PHOTO: NETFLIX
More than half of all Netflix films and scripted series featured a female protagonist but only around three in 10 leads or co-leads are from a minority ethnic group.
More than half of all Netflix films and scripted series featured a female protagonist but only around three in 10 leads or co-leads are from a minority ethnic group.PHOTO: NETFLIX

SINGAPORE - In the first diversity study of its films and series, streaming giant Netflix showed gains in the inclusion of marginalised groups both onscreen and behind the scenes.

Still, only around three in 10 leads or co-leads are from a minority ethnic group, below proportional representation in the United States.

The media company released the study last Friday and also announced the creation of the Netflix Fund for Creative Equity, which will invest US$100 million (S$133 million) over the next five years to train and provide opportunities for under-represented communities.

The study, led by Dr. Stacy L. Smith and the University of Southern California Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, analysed 126 films and 180 series released in 2018 and 2019 to assess the diversity of Netflix's original US-based scripted content.

More than half of all Netflix films and scripted series featured a female protagonist. Stories with women or girls at the centre grew from 48.6 per cent in 2018 to 55.2 per cent in 2019.

Netflix also worked with more women in key creative roles such as directors, creators and screenwriters, as compared with the wider film and television industry.

In a video uploaded to YouTube, Dr Smith said having female creators led to more female-driven stories: "Inclusion happens when women are given keys to the kingdom and drive storylines at Netflix."

But only 31.9 per cent of leading roles were given to members of an under-represented ethnic group, below the 39.9 per cent of the US population who are from a minority race.

This is despite under-represented leads or co-leads increasing from 26.4 per cent in 2018 to 37.3 per cent in 2019.

Stories with Latino and Asian leading characters were particularly rare, at 2.6 and 4 per cent respectively. Few from these minority groups held power behind the scenes either.

Though women of colour gained more prominence in leading roles or as main cast members over the two years, they are still often entirely missing from stories.

More than two-thirds of the offerings studied did not portray a Latina woman or girl speaking. More than 85 per cent erased Middle Eastern or North African girls and women, 29.1 per cent left out black females and 48 per cent showed no Asian women.

White females, in contrast, were missing from only 4.6 per cent of all stories.

Stories which gave play to lesbian, gay, transgender and bisexual characters were also rare, with transgender characters especially sidelined. Characters with disabilities went largely unrepresented as well.

In a blog post, Netflix chief content officer and co-chief executive Ted Sarandos committed to telling more diverse stories. He promised that the company will release a report every two years to 2026 inclusive.

He said: "We are still in the early stages of a major change in storytelling - where great stories can truly come from anywhere, be created by anyone, whatever their background, and be loved everywhere.

"And by better understanding how we are doing, we hope to stimulate change not just at Netflix but across our industry more broadly.