NETFLIX – When you spend hours of lockdown and curfew evenings watching Netflix movies and series, what image of society do you have? Do the heroes you become attached to resemble the world we live in, in gender, skin color or sexual orientation?
To scientifically evaluate it, The USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative – a benchmark think tank for research on representation issues – scrutinized 172 original American series and 126 films produced by Netflix between January 2018 and December 2019. This content has been scrutinized against 22 inclusion indicators, including the composition of the cast on screen (according to gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, etc.), but also behind the screen as producers, directors or screenwriters.
The results were each compared to the 100 top “traditional” box office hits in the same year, and also compared to data from the United States Census Bureau, which scrutinizes the American population.
The result is this study on “the evolution of diversity and inclusion in original content” of the streaming platform with 200 million subscribers, made public on February 26 and available in full here.
Women in front of and behind the camera
In front of the camera, 52% of his films and original series contain prominent female characters as in “The New Adventures of Sabrina” with Kiernan Shipka, “Umbrella Academy” with Emmy Raver-Lampman or the film “The Landromat” carried by Meryl Streep. The streaming platform therefore reaches parity on this point while the average is still 41% for major American productions. And behind the camera, the place of women is also overall more important than in traditional production circuits.
Like Susanne Bier’s thriller “Birdbox”, 23.1% of films produced by Netflix are directed by women when the average is 7.6% at the box office, notes the study. “That’s for the numbers in the United States. In France for the cinema, we reach between 23 and 24% of films directed by women, but still 76 to 77% produced by men ”, tempers Sandrine Brauer, co-president of the Collective 50/50 which works in favor of equality and diversity in cinema and audiovisual, contacted by The HuffPost to react to this publication.
When we look at the profile of these women, on the other hand, Netflix is sometimes behind: women of color in director positions are only 5.9%, against 7.1% in the series industry. The ten episodes of “Seven Seconds”, signed by the director, producer and screenwriter Veena Cabreros-Sud, are thus rather an exception.
According to the same study, women screenwriters and producers, on the other hand, number 25.2% and 29% for feature films on the platform when the industry posts an average of 16.7% and 19% as comparison.
And if it is just as important to evaluate what we do not see on the screen, in the creation teams of films and series, it is because “inclusion happens when you give the keys to women and that they are telling the stories, ”says Dr. Stacy Smith who conducted the study. “We write, we realize with our life experience, so even without essentializing, the absence of women in creative positions obviously has an impact” in the stories that are told, also confirms the producer Sandrine Brauer.
The place of LGBTQ + characters, Netflix’s “biggest delay”
The study commissioned by Reed Hastings’ department at USC Annenberg also points to a few shortcomings that contribute to the “invisibilization epidemic” of certain minorities. This is particularly the case when we are interested in the place of LGBTQ + characters in the platform’s films and series. “While 12% of Americans identify as LGBTQ +, only 2.3% of Netflix stories make them prominent characters (including a majority of bisexuals, but few homoparental families for example and no transgender, Editor’s note) ”, Concedes Bela Bajaria, vice-president in charge of the series.
“It was our biggest surprise and our biggest delay in this study,” she blows. “On this point, the world we live in today does not look like what we show in our productions”.
Despite the brilliant “Atypical” series on autism, the situation is also below reality in terms of the place given to people with a disability. If they account for 27% of the American population according to the Census Bureau, they are only 11.9% represented in the cast of Netflix films. Against 14% in the 100 biggest box office successes over the same period.
The USC Annenberg study also identifies between 1.7% and 5.1% of actors and actresses of Latino and Hispanic origin in the main cast of films and series on the platform, while they represent 12% of the American population for example.
“I think we’ve been way ahead of some big roles, with big impact and great stories,” comments Bela Bajaria, vice president in charge of series, “but I was still shocked that we weren’t doing some things well ”.
Among the 22 indicators chosen for this study, one of the most important for the co-president of the Collective 50/50 is nevertheless missing: remuneration, the result of the process of discrimination. “This study is missing a section on wage inequalities,” says Sandrine Baurer. “In France for example, the figures are scandalous: the remuneration of a woman director is 32% lower than that of a man, for screenwriters it is around 40% less … But directing or writing a film does not does not require a specific male physiological capacity. ”
“Cracking glass ceilings”
If this large-scale study is a first for Netflix, the streaming platform intends to work with USC Annenberg until 2026 to measure the evolution of its practices every two years. An exercise in transparency which, although it has been in good part rather exemplary so far and therefore participates in the construction of the positive image of the platform in favor of inclusion and diversity, has the merit of existing so much publication of quantified studies is still lacking.
“Producing studies and figures is at the heart of our action. The figures have a leverage and awareness-raising effect, ”says Sandrine Brauer, at the head of the French production company En compagnie des lamas. “It is from quantified data that we go beyond the notion of intuition and that collective intelligence begins”.
“By better understanding what we do, we hope to stimulate change not just at Netflix, but also across the industry,” promises CEO Ted Sarandos and right-hand man of Reed Hastings.
Netflix does not hide it. If the format of the platform where there are many more productions than in the traditional circuit offers “the freedom and the opportunity to reach different audiences”, this commitment to greater inclusion and diversity also allows “to address more people and to open up our audience. It’s business in fact, ”recalls Scott Stuber, vice president of Netflix in charge of films.
“Today we are talking about invisibilization. And even if we do not look at it exactly the same way depending on whether we are trying to gain market share or whether we are trying to undermine the breaks in equality, our actions can obviously converge ”, reacts Sandrine. Brauer. Because if the figures are a first step and make it possible to describe a system, “now we have to manage to crack glass ceilings”.
In parallel with the publication of this comprehensive study, Netflix announced the creation of a global fund of $ 200 million over 5 years, aimed at fostering inclusion and diversity on screen and behind the camera. In France, a few tens of thousands of euros will support the Collective 50/50 mentoring program.
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