Netflix has made notable strides in representation for women and people of color both in front of and behind the camera, but the streamer still has strides to make, according to its latest study with the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative.
The study, published Thursday, found that Netflix had achieved gender equality when it came to lead roles in films and series from 2018 to 2021 with about 55% of the projects featuring a girl or woman as the lead or co-lead.
There have been more women behind the camera as well. In 2021, 26.9% of directors on Netflix films were women, compared to 12.7% across top-grossing films that same year. Among show creators in 2021, 38% were women which is a double-digit percentage increase from the 26.9% in 2018.
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Women of color made specific strides behind the camera, as they made up 11.8% of series directors in 2021 (up from 5.6% in 2018). Women of color saw similar growth in write and creator roles, the study reported. As for films, 27.7% had women of color as leads/co-leads in 2021. That number was 54.75% for series. But in front of the camera, Netflix could stand to have more women and girls of color represented in its content.
Overall, about half of Netflix’s content in 2021 featured a lead or co-lead from an underrepresented racial/ethnic group. That’s about 19 percentage points higher than in 2018. However, the study found that there remains gaps in representation for Latinx, Middle Eastern/North African, Indigenous and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander communities.
For example, only about 6.8% of Netflix films from 2018 to 2021 featured a Latinx lead or co-lead. For series, that number was actually much higher at 22%. As for behind the camera, 4.5% of films and 2.7% of series had Latinx directors. Only 3.6% of series creators were Latinx.
There is still significant room to improve the representation of characters with disabilities as well, according to the study. In 2021, there were zero series that featured a lead or co-lead with a disability. About 7.7% of films did. About 1% of all speaking characters across film and TV had a disability.
Netflix has also significantly increased the presence of LGBTQ main characters on screen, but it lacks these characters in more minor roles, according to the study. While 35.8% of Netflix films and series featured an LGBTQ+ lead or co-lead, only about 4% of Netflix’s speaking characters were LGBTQ+.
During a panel on Wednesday, Netflix leadership expressed commitment to filling those gaps that remain.
“I think it’s imperative that we get to a place as a community where we’re telling big stories with all kinds of representation in terms of the cast, so that we’re seeing ourselves and aspirational stories from every community,” said Scott Stuber, chairman of Netflix Film. “That’s something we’re trying to push, and I think other film studios are recognizing that there’s all audiences out there and they want to see themselves and it’s important to continue to change and evolve in the storytelling.”
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