Researchers with the University of Southern California’s Inclusion Initiative released a report indicating that Netflix, the production company and streaming platform, has made a significant impact in promoting gender equality in the entertainment business and advancing racial/ethnic representation on screen. However, women of color remain disproportionately excluded from work on both sides of the camera and that the LGBTQ and Disability communities are rarely represented in entertainment. So, Netflix pledged to do more to advance underrepresented groups’ inclusion in the production process, especially with respect to the disability community. Disabilities Rarely Seen According to the report titled “Inclusion in Netflix Original U.S. Scripted Series & Films,” characters with disabilities accounted for just 5.3% of leads and 4.7% of the main cast in films and episodic series on Netflix. When all speaking characters were factored into the analysis, only 2.1% of the total were found to be people with disabilities. This number falls far short of reflecting the 27.2% of the population who have disabilities, the report noted. When individuals with disabilities were represented on screen, they were likely to be male and most were white. Slightly more than half of these characters had physical disabilities. The USC Researchers observed that Netflix had produced little change in its representation of people with disabilities between 2018 and 2019, concluding that “there is room for Netflix to grow in order to depict the full range of how people experience disability.” The Response
Netflix responded to the USC study with a major announcement, declaring it will invest $100 million over the next five years in organizations similar to the Center of Asian American Media (CAAM), The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), the National Black Programming Consortium, or the FireFlight Media that help bring underrepresented communities into the television and film industries and in programs designed to train and hire new talent. Notably, the report found that strong representation behind the camera among certain groups, like women, led to better representation of those groups on screen; this dynamic indicates the reason why a two-pronged approach to representation is necessary. Netflix should also be praised for instigating the USC report in the first place, an action that demonstrates a commitment to self-reflection and transparency. These are critical steps to take in a journey toward inclusion. “This study sets a high bar for the wider industry and demonstrates how an internal audit is a critical first step toward inclusive change,” Smith said.