Social Impact26 February 2021
The Netflix Fund for Creative Equity will invest in the next generation of underrepresented storytellers
When we launched our first TV shows in 2013 like House of Cards and Orange Is the New Black, we aspired to tell stories that weren’t available elsewhere. Not only in terms of the variety we offered, but also the people and cultures we brought to the screen.
As we expanded into films and documentaries, we continued to push boundaries - celebrating firsts with talent from traditionally underrepresented communities like Laverne Cox, Rachel Morrison, Yance Ford, and Dee Rees. Stories like Dear White People, When They See Us, Atypical, Master of None and Nanette resonated with audiences who rarely saw themselves on screen. We thought we were making progress… but were we really, and was it enough?
To answer that question, we asked Dr. Stacy L. Smith, the founder and director of USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, to study our US commissioned films and series over a two-year period from 2018 to 2019. She and her team are renowned for their work in this field, including the Inequality in Popular Films reports, which examines portrayals of gender, race, LGBTQ+ identities and disability on screen across our industry.
The resulting USC Annenberg report, out today, analyzes the makeup of Netflix’s on screen talent as well as our creators, producers, writers and directors. (Read the executive summary here and the full report here). We’ve released this report in the interests of transparency. Because without this kind of information it's very hard to judge whether we're improving or not. And the report makes clear that while Netflix has made advances in representation year-over-year, we still have a long way to go.
Across 22 inclusion indicators for film and series, 19 showed an improvement year-over-year. We are outpacing the industry in hiring women and women of color to direct our films, and women creators to bring our series to life, and we have achieved gender equality in leading roles across our films and series. We have also exceeded proportional representation of Black leads, co-leads and main cast across the two years that were examined. But not all racial/ethnic groups saw their representation increase during the period of the study. For example, we still have notable representation gaps in film and series for Latinx, Middle Eastern/North African, American Indian/Alaskan Native, and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander communities. And we still have work to do in increasing representation of the LGBTQ community and characters with disabilities.
Dr. Smith’s years of research - including this new study - confirm that inclusion behind the camera exponentially increases inclusion in front of the camera, and that both depend on ensuring that the Netflix executives commissioning these stories are also diverse. We recently released our first Inclusion Report about Netflix’s employee population. Over the years, we’ve seen that to drive real change, we need to approach our work with an “inclusion lens.” That means asking more questions like: “whose voice is missing? Is this portrayal authentic? Who is excluded?” This lens directly impacts who is being hired both above and below the line as well as the stories we make for our members.
Doing better means establishing even more opportunities for people from underrepresented communities to have their voices heard, and purposefully closing capacity and skill gaps with training programs where they are needed. So we are excited today to announce the creation of the Netflix Fund for Creative Equity. We will invest USD $100 million dollars over the next five years in a combination of external organizations with a strong track record of setting underrepresented communities up for success in the TV and film industries, as well as bespoke Netflix programs that will help us to identify, train and provide job placement for up-and-coming talent globally.
Illustrations by Ndubisi Okoye
The new fund complements other investments we’ve been making to find and train new, young talent. Like our commitment to the Ghetto Film School, Film Independent’s Project Involve, Firelight Media and Black Public Media to help foster Black creators. And the Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival’s Latinx Inclusion Fellowship Series, which mentors Afro Latinx directors. We’ve also supported these efforts outside the US. In Canada we created a mentorship program with imagineNATIVE to support Indigenous directors, producers, and screenwriters, like Kiley May. We’ve also been working to develop training programs on our series like Top Boy in the UK and 3% in Brazil, which both invited diverse aspiring directors on set to shadow the filmmaking process.
We’re committed to continue our work with Dr. Smith and USC, and will release a report every two years, from now through 2026. As Dr. Smith told me, she’s “not aware of another quantitative study that has this degree of nuance” - setting “a high bar for the wider industry” as “an internal audit is a critical first step toward inclusive change." We’ll also look to do similar studies in other countries around the world. Our hope is to create a benchmark for ourselves, and more broadly across the industry.
Taken together, we believe these efforts will help accelerate the change that Dr. Smith has so long advocated for - creating a lasting legacy of inclusion in entertainment. We are still in the early stages of a major change in storytelling - where great stories can truly come from anywhere, be created by anyone, whatever their background, and be loved everywhere. And by better understanding how we are doing, we hope to stimulate change not just at Netflix but across our industry more broadly.