Netflix Faulted For Limited Disability Representation
Even as Netflix has made strides in improving inclusion on screen, a new report finds the streaming service is falling short when it comes to featuring people with disabilities.
Characters with disabilities are “rarely depicted” in Netflix original series and films, according to the recently released report from Stacy Smith at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.
Smith and her team assessed representations of gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation and disability in Netflix scripted films and series in 2020 and 2021 for the report, which was conducted as part of a partnership with the company.
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Just 2% of characters in Netflix original series and 1.6% of those in the company’s films had disabilities, the report found. These characters accounted for leads or co-leads in 7.7% of films, down from 15.8% in 2019, and there were none in any series. There were no speaking or named characters with disabilities in nearly three-quarters of the content studied.
“Characters with disabilities as leads/co-leads, main cast/series regulars, and all speaking characters remained below proportional representation with the U.S. population. Moreover, these percentages have not changed across the four years examined,” the report found.
Characters with disabilities in Netflix content were most likely to use a wheelchair or have other physical disabilities, followed by communicative disabilities and cognitive disabilities.
Netflix acknowledged that it has work to do.
“There is still significant room to improve the representation of characters with disabilities,” the streaming service’s Chief Content Officer Bela Bajaria wrote in a post about the findings.
The latest report serves as a follow-up to one issued in 2021. At the time, Netflix committed to releasing a new inclusion report every two years through 2026 and the company pledged $100 million toward groups that bring underrepresented communities into the television and film industries in addition to funding programs internally to train and hire new talent. Since then, Netflix said it has invested $29 million in more than 100 programs through the initiative.
While progress has been limited in terms of disability representation, the report did find that Netflix achieved gender equality in leading roles and made big strides in bolstering the percentage of people of color in leading roles.
“We see notable gains this year, which should serve as an example to the rest of the entertainment industry. Inclusion is possible,” Smith said. “However, it’s essential to take an intersectional look across multiple identities to understand where progress is being made and where gains are desperately needed. We’re looking forward to following up in two years to see how this report fostered change.”
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