Netflix Crime Series Have More Negative Depictions of People of Color Than 5 Other Top Networks

Color of Change study takes a hard look at how the crime genre portrays racial injustice

Netflix’s crime series have been found to show more negative depictions of people of color than five other top television networks examined in a study aimed at exposing racial injustice in the crime genre of television.

Conducted by the nonprofit organization Color of Change and USC Annenberg’s Norman Lear Center for public policy and research, the study examines crime shows from the 2017-17 season to determine “how television’s most popular genre excludes writers of color, miseducates people about the criminal justice system and makes racial injustice acceptable.”

Along with diversity of writers’ rooms on the show, the study also looks specifically at how often people of color are shown doing “wrongful actions,” which it defines in 23 specific terms, grouped into categories like coercion and intimidation, violence and abuse, lying and tampering, corruption, and overt racism.

The study examined 26 crime series overall, taking a randomized selection of 70-80% of the episodes from those series, with 353 episodes in total examined from Netflix, ABC, CBS, NBC, Amazon Prime Video, and Fox.

Netflix was the worst offender, with its crime series “Seven Seconds” averaging at 12.25 negative depictions of people of color per episode. “Narcos” was found to have an average of 11.5 negative depictions of people of color per episode, while the show’s writers’ room consisted of 80% white writers.

NBC’s “The Blacklist” had an average of 3.53 negative depictions per episode, while CBS’ “Blue Bloods” had an average of 2.18, Fox’s “Lethal Weapon” had 2.12, and ABC’s “How to Get Away With Murder” had 1.5, and CBS’s “Elementary” had 1.19.

The study also noted that Amazon’s “Goliath” had the highest level of depictions of victims who were people of color victims, but the lowest level of depictions of victims who were women.

Reps for the Netflix, ABC, NBC, CBS and Amazon Prime Video did not respond to TheWrap’s request for comment. Fox declined to comment.

It’s worth noting that Netflix’s “Seven Seconds” was one of only two series out of the 26 that had 50% or more writers of color. Color of Change also noted in the study that they regularly have conversations about portrayals of race with writers and showrunners, including consulting on certain series including “Seven Seconds.” It is also important to note that some series in the study had lower negative depiction rates due to a lesser number of people of color on screen in the first place.

81% of all showrunners on the 26 series were white men, with “Criminal Minds,” “Shades of Blue,” “Orange is the New Black,” “Seven Seconds” and “Luke Cage” being the exception. At least 78% of all writers were white, while only 9% were black. The report also states that across the genre, 20 out of 26 series each had no more than one black writer.

The study also acknowledges that systemic change is not easy to carry out, and praises shows like CBS limited series “The Red Line” and Netflix’s “Unbelievable” for continuing to “challenge crime genre conventions, push the genre forward and bring new stories to light.”

“When viewers see people of color committing or supporting wrongful actions, it may have a stronger normalization effect
with respect to those actions,” the study says. “For instance, the effect may be very different when an all-white group of police officers assaults or disparages a black person, compared to a group of officers in which there is even just 1 black officer participating in doing so. The mere presence of the black officer may leave the impression–especially with white viewers–that the incident could not be an instance of racial bias, discrimination or injustice,” the study states. “When we take into account that 46% of the depictions of police captains, chiefs, commissioners and other high-ranking members of the police force in the series examined featured people of color, the endorsement and normalization effect could be even stronger.”

Margeaux Sippell

Margeaux Sippell

TV Reporter • • @margeauxsippell


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