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Netflix Needs More People Of Color And Women To Write, Produce And Direct Its Shows -- According To Its Own Diversity Study

Graduate student Quran Squire (left) goes over camera usage with undergraduate student MacKenzie Drewe on the set of a student film at Loyola Marymount University on February 23, 2018. (Robyn Beck /AFP via Getty Images)
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With more people watching its streaming content than ever before, Netflix decided to give itself a diversity checkup. The conclusion? There's plenty to celebrate -- and also plenty of work to do.

Most in-depth studies of Hollywood inclusion have focused narrowly on major studios and broadcast networks. Rather than wait to be part of some future industry analysis, Netflix commissioned an investigation and hired Dr. Stacy L. Smith of the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative to lead it.

The findings, released Friday, examined 126 movies and 180 scripted series released by Netflix in 2018 and 2019. While the data shows Netflix is well ahead of industry averages when casting lead roles, it lags in hiring women to write, produce and direct its series.

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Nearly 50% of Netflix films in the two years studied featured girls or women in starring roles. By comparison, among the 100 top-grossing films of those years, only 41% featured a female lead or co-lead. And more than a third of all Netflix movie leads came from underrepresented groups, compared with 28% in the top studio films.

Behind the camera in 2018 and 2019, Netflix hired women for more than one of every five film directing jobs -- more than double the rate for studio films but well below the percentage they make up of the nation's population.

However, Netflix came up short for women working on its series. In 2019, for example, fewer than 17% of Netflix's series producers were women. In the industry, the figure is more than double -- almost 40%. Just 5% of Netflix stories had leads or coleads with disabilities although more than a quarter of the U.S. population lives with a disability, according to the USC study.

Behind the camera, only 16.9% of Netflix film directors came from underrepresented groups, compared to 20.5% for the top 100 theatrical movies.

As part of the report's release, Netflix announced the Netflix Fund for Creative Equity. It will invest $100 million over the next five years to help underrepresented artists train and find jobs in Hollywood. Netflix also committed to releasing an update of the USC diversity study every two years through 2026.

"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," Ted Sarandos, Netflix's co-CEO and chief content officer, said in a statement. "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."