Netflix & Diversity

Orbital’s Georgia Beith gets to grips with an issue bigger than Netflix and Chill: the topic of Netflix and Diversity.

Netflix is widely recognised as the future of the entertainment industry – it’s not news to anyone. It’s a way of watching film and TV that has rapidly increased in popularity. But it isn’t just its quickly garnered success that sets Netflix apart; it also far outstrips traditional forms of media in terms of representation.

TV and film’s lack of diversity is not a new issue by any means but, more recently people have finally been taking notice of this problem. The #OscarsSoWhite controversy, a response to the lack of diverse acting nominees at last year’s Oscars, highlights the limited opportunities and recognition given to actors of ethnic minorities. The lack of representation concerning sexuality and gender also poses a problem. A report from the Media, Diversity & Social Change Initiative revealed that, out of 11,194 speaking characters across film and television, only 2% identified as LGBTQ. The same report showed that, from 2007 to 2014, for every female actress in a film there were 2.3 male actors. The age old myth that the world contains only straight white men still plagues most of Hollywood.

Netflix doesn’t seem to suffer from the same ailment as its more mainstream counterparts. It’s noticeable that its original content performs far better when it comes to diversity and representation. This is no coincidence either. Cindy Holland, Vice President of original content for Netflix, stated that they are creating with ‘an increasingly global audience’ in mind. Take their most famous original production ‘Orange is the New Black’: the cast is not only overwhelmingly female, but also hugely diverse in terms of race, sexuality and gender. Another example is sci-fi show ‘Sense8’, which features eight main characters of different genders and sexualities, all from different cultural and ethnic backgrounds, conveying that this feat is not impossible.

Undoubtedly, their success is down to the opportunities Netflix gives to creators from underrepresented demographics. ‘Orange is the New Black’ is created by a female Jewish writer, and ‘Sense8’ by two transgender women. It has been proven that diverse content needs diverse creators. For example, in films with at least one female writer or director, women comprised 50% of protagonists, but in films with no female creators, they made up only 13% (Center for the Study of Women in Television & Film). In an industry where 82.4% of film directors are Caucasian males (Directors Guild of America), it is clear that this is where the root of the problem lies. And Netflix’s efforts to combat this are making a difference.

So if they can do it, why can’t the established film and television studios of the world follow suit? Netflix has the unique advantage which leaves it unrestrained by the antiquated rules of the traditional media. The freedom to create is a benefit of being in a section of media that is largely undefined. Even so, Netflix’s commitment to representation should be the rule, not the exception.

That isn’t to say that Netflix never falls foul of the crimes that the industry at large is guilty of. Its latest hit; ‘Stranger Things’ came under fire with accusations of tokenism – there are only two featured characters of colour – and for not featuring a single character who identified as LGBTQ. True consistency is just beyond their reach. But the fact that they are dedicated to diversity, and actively striving towards improvement is commendable.

There is much to be learnt from Netflix, with the streaming service taking its place alongside TV as the new normal, it represents a shift in attitudes that we will hopefully see reflected across the industry very soon.