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The problem with Netflix

2018-03-25 00:00

Johannesburg - Google the words “Netflix diversity” and the first search result is a page from the TV and movie streaming service’s website. It’s from the job section that tells you how diverse it is as a company.

Or maybe not so much.

A video is included, with happy, upbeat music and visuals that show a room filled with black men and women. But then the page tells you that the company has 43% women and 57% men, while its ethnic figures are 48% white and only 4% black people. The rest of the employees are multi-ethnic.

On a trip to Netflix headquarters in Los Angeles and Silicon Valley recently, listening to 15 Netflix executives speaking to more than 70 journalists from around the world, one of the journalists came over to me to ask whether it was her imagination or the jet lag or was I the only black person in the pack?

She was right, I was out there on my own.

As we chatted, we also realised that of those execs repeatedly using their favourite keyword, “diversity”, the only person of colour who addressed us was a woman from the Philippines – and 10 of the 15 were white men. Even an all-female panel to discuss the second season of Marvel’s Jessica Jones was moderated by a white man.

Netflix has 117 million subscribers worldwide and plays an increasingly influential role in what we watch, thanks to their deep pockets and the production of original shows.

The trip to the Netflix headquarters came right after comedian and Oscar-winning actress Mo’Nique’s call to boycott the $100 billion (R1.2 trillion) company because of race-based and gender-based pay inequality – with black female comedians, needless to say, getting the short end of the stick.

But for you to understand all of this, take a trip to the page that introduces you to the top management at Netflix – eight people, one white woman and seven white men.

And then there’s the matter of the unequal pay of the cast of The Crown which, after it was made public knowledge that the show’s lead Claire Foy was paid less than co-star Matt Smith, the best the show’s producers could do was apologise.

The furore continued when Left Bank Pictures admitted that Smith, who plays the queen’s husband, Prince Philip, negotiated a better deal than Foy, the queen herself, because of his perceived higher profile.

“We understand and appreciate the conversation which is rightly being played out across society and we are absolutely united with the fight for fair pay, free of gender bias, and for a rebalancing of the industry’s treatment of women, both those in front of the camera and for those behind the scenes,” the producers said.

So when you look at this bigger picture, how can we expect any real diversity or truly believe the buzzword?

This is a company that produces a lot of original content, one that has previously taken an active stance to produce shows with strong black female leads. So where, then, with an all-white executive team, can we expect to find a genuine understanding of the nuances of the black narrative and lived experiences?

In June last year, Variety’s Maureen Ryan analysed the show runners of the 2016/17 broadcast TV season and found that “90% of show runners are white, and almost 80% are male”.

There is a mounting need for unrelenting minority representation on television, starting with first-generation kids creating art that speaks to their experiences.

For such an innovative and exciting company, Netflix is unfortunately not making any solid moves to fully allow people of colour and women the space to tell their stories authentically.

None of this can happen until the company starts to implement diversity from the top.

(Photos supplied)

Read more on:    netflix  |  streaming  |  internet tv

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