Netflix should be held accountable for ingenuine commitments to diverse TV

Platform is championed for uplifting marginalized voices without giving them necessary support

Netflix should be transparent about its choice to cancel diverse shows.
Photo: 

With evidence showing diversity attracts bigger audiences and greater profit, it’s unsurprising TV has recently been overwhelmed with voices that have traditionally been silenced. It’s also no surprise that, in recent months, Netflix—the streaming giant and production company—has advertised itself as a platform for diverse storytelling.     

I always spend my free nights binging Netflix series. The platform’s commitment to diversity doesn’t make or break my viewership. But it certainly changes things.

I never wondered as a child why my skin colour wasn’t reflected onscreen. I’m sure I was being affected by the lack of representation internally—which might explain why I had a pressing urge to dye my hair blonde in the seventh grade—but I never expected to see women or people of colour on TV.

Then, much later in my life, Netflix became an industry leader for diverse television. At my own convenience, I could place myself in vivid worlds with people who looked and thought like I did.

While watching the Alvarez family in One Day at a Time,I reveled in the character of Elena—an outspoken queer feminist who took every eye roll in stride and kept on fighting.

In the animated world of Tuca and Bertie, I travelled a journey that pushed me to consider how the fetishization of young women has shaped my sexuality, offering lessons on how I can heal from the trauma this fetishization has left behind.

The road trips I took with the men of Queer Eye helped me realize the power of laughter, and that embracing joy in the face of hatred is the sweetest form of rebellion there is.

Netflix’s diverse lineup has given me the chance to gain something I’ve missed out on in life, and for this, the platform deserves praise. But that shouldn’t excuse its inability to follow through.  

The true representation of diversity isn’t a sprint—it’s a marathon.

White men are given second, third, and fifty-seventh chances at success. They’re free to explore their creative dreams, regardless of how many flops they produce along the way. If this weren’t true, there’s no way in hell we’d have Adam Sandler.

Women and minorities aren’t given the same opportunities. It’s a universal truth that we have to work twice as hard for half the rewards (and no praise). A failure for one of us ruins that one of us, and those failures create more hurdles for the rest of us.

Netflix is just another home for these failures.

The past year alone has seen a plethora of diverse shows axed by the streaming platform. One Day at a Time, Tuca and Bertie, and Jessica Jones—all created by women (and often women of colour)—are on the list. Meanwhile, shows that, in my opinion, seem to have no soul, have gotten renewed. On this considerably paler list are Big Mouth, Fuller House, and 13 Reasons Why.

Of course, it’s reasonable for a network or platform to cut series that aren’t generating enough views. However, because of Netflix’s decision to keep ratings private, the service can’t publicly justify why certain shows are ‘successes’ while others are ‘flops.’ This makes it eerily convenient that shows created by diverse women are usually the ones on the chopping block.

Netflix’s complex marketing strategy also means we don’t know how much publicity each new series gets. Recommendations for what to watch are tailored to the interests of individual viewers, giving subscribers more of the same to guarantee they’ll keep coming back to the platform.

For individuals (like myself) who resort to consuming homogenous media, that can mean not being aware of diverse programming until it’s too late. When I log on to Netflix after finishing a season of Friends, they recommend I watch How I Met Your Mother.

When it comes to Netflix algorithms, I might as well be a white woman.

But there’s a good chance Netflix knows the colour of my skin. The company’s marketing tactics recently landed it in hot water for targeting Black viewers by singling out Black actors in promotional images. Netflix seems to be marketing its diversity by finding and promoting bits and pieces of it in shows and movies like Love Actually.  

Without proof of low ratings to justify the cancellation of high-quality diverse series, and without transparent marketing efforts for all new series, Netflix seems to be setting up diverse shows to fail, while capitalizing on the social justice trend.

The platform doesn’t technically have a responsibility to fight for social justice. No private corporate has to care.

However, it does have a responsibility to own up to its claims.

Netflix, my identity is not a trend. Until the company can explain why its push for diverse storytelling keeps failing, it needs to stop using it to enhance its bottom line.  

Tags: 

When commenting, be considerate and respectful of writers and fellow commenters. Try to stay on topic. Spam and comments that are hateful or discriminatory will be deleted. Our full commenting policy can be read here.