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March 7, 2021

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Netflix a cut above rivals in diversity of directors

Netflix Inc outpaced competitors in hiring women to direct feature films but Latin-American and Asian actors were underrepresented in leading TV roles, according to a study commissioned by the streaming service and released recently.

Hollywood has faced criticism in recent years for a lack of diversity among people on and off screen. Netflix, the world’s largest streaming service, asked researchers at the University of Southern California to assess the prevalence of multiple groups among actors in its English-language programing and creators working behind the scenes.

“The report makes clear that while Netflix has made advances in representation year-over-year, we still have a long way to go,” co-chief executive Ted Sarandos said in a blog post.

Researchers at USC’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, led by professor Stacy L. Smith, evaluated 126 live-action movies and 180 scripted, live-action TV shows that debuted on Netflix 2018 and 2019.

They found that Netflix had a higher percentage of female producers, writers and directors of feature films than other distributors. The study found that women directed 23 percent of Netflix movies during the two-year period, more than triple the 7.6 percent among the top-grossing box office movies during that time. Women of color directed 6.2 percent of Netflix films, compared to 2.2 percent elsewhere. The study did not compare Netflix movies with all major studio releases or with movies released on other streaming services.

The higher percentage off screen led to more women and girls on screen, Smith said during an online video discussion of the findings. Main roles in Netflix film and TV shows were split equally among males and females, the study found.

“Inclusion happens when women are given keys to the kingdom and drive storylines,” Smith said.

The percentage of black actors in leading roles exceeded that of the US population. But among other groups, 4 percent of leading roles in movies, and 1.7 percent in TV series, were filled by Latin actors. That was below the 12 percent of Latin people in the population. Asian actors appeared in 1.7 percent of leading roles in Netflix TV series, compared with 7 percent in the population.

The report also found that appearances by LGBTQ people and characters with disabilities were rare.

Overall, 19 of 22 measures examined by the researchers improved from 2018 to 2019, the study found.

Aiming to improve, Netflix announced a US$100 million fund to help train people from underrepresented communities and promised to release updated data every two years through 2026.

“The point of this benchmark is to constantly be held accountable,” said Scott Stuber, Netflix’s vice president of global film.


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