Netflix Has Achieved Gender Equity in Leading Roles, USC Annenberg Inclusion Study Reveals

There are still strides to make for Latinx, Middle Eastern/North African, Indigenous and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander communities, however

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Netflix has achieved gender equity in leading on-screen roles, a new USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative report reveals.

Between 2018 and 2021, 55% of all Netflix original films and series featured a girl or woman as the lead or co-lead, per the study, with films and series from 2020 and 2021 signaling notable benchmarks for year-over-year representation for women and people from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups. Leading roles for people of color also saw an increase in representation with nearly half (47%) of the streamer’s films and series featuring a lead or co-lead from an underrepresented racial/ethnic group in 2020 and 2021.

There are still strides to make, however: the study found persistent gaps in representation in Latinx, Middle Eastern/North African, Indigenous and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander communities, as well as characters with disabilities.

Behind the camera, the streaming service saw improvements for women both in terms of directorial and creator roles. In 2021, women accounted for 26.9% of directors on Netflix films were women — a jump from the 12.7% of women who directed top-grossing films in the same year — while 38% of show creators in 2021 were women, marking a substantial jump from 2018’s figure, which accounted for 26.9% of creators being women. 

Representation for women of color behind and in front of the camera also saw an increase, as directorial roles for women of color saw an uptick from 5.6% in 2018 to 11.8% in 2021, while writer and creator roles experienced comparable growth. In 2021, over half of Netflix shows and nearly a third of films featured women of color as leads and co-leads.

Alongside the biannual report, Netflix unveiled a handful of new inclusion programs, including the U.S.-based Shondaland Producers Inclusion and Ladder Initiatives, which is currently training 13 participants in technical roles on the set of Netflix series “The Residence.” The streamer also announced the U.S.-based Gold Producers Accelerator, which is presented by Gold House, AUM and Netflix, Canada-based imagineNATIVE Production Mentorship Program and India-based Netflix x Film Companion Take Ten Program.

Ukraine-based programs that provide digital masterclasses for Ukrainian producers and line producers include partnerships with European Audiovisual Entrepreneurs (EAVE), House of Europe, the New York Film Academy and the Ukrainian Film Academy.

After partnering with Dr. Stacy L. Smith and the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative two years ago, Netflix committed to reporting its inclusion metrics and progress every two years through 2026 and established the Netflix Fund for Creative Equity, which invests $100 million over the course of five years as the streamer strives to pave the way for talent from underrepresented communities.

“We’re encouraged by this newest round of results and the impact we’re seeing through the first two years of the Fund for Creative Equity,” the streamer said in a statement. “But we know that driving real change, not only at Netflix but industry-wide, means continuing to think about whose voices are still missing and discovering the next generation of storytellers.”