Is Netflix giving us a 'Woke Slight of Hand' or Are they Genuine?
On May 13, Netflix released a long memo to its employees which essentially comes down to: “Depending on your role, you may need to work on titles you perceive to be harmful. If you’d find it hard to support our content breadth, Netflix may not be the best place for you.”
Countless outlets reported this juicy bit of news and my own Twitter feed lit up like a Christmas tree; from Elon Musk to Jordan Peterson, to all the soldiers in the heterodox camp like Lindsay, Rufo, Shapiro, and more. The replies to this news ranged from it being a step in the right direction, or, for some, it seems like this is all that was needed to forgive Netflix altogether. Just like a magician waving its wand, one press release was enough to trick us into changing our views of the company, but was it a wave of the wand or sleight of hands?
First, let’s examine the company and its track record when it comes to wokeness within its ranks and structure.
In 2018, Netflix instituted anti-harassment guidelines within the company. A laudable goal, but Netflix goes very far with its policies. Some of their new rules included not giving lingering hugs, never asking for a colleague's phone number, reporting a colleague who has given unwanted attention, and the five-second staring rule, which prohibits employees from staring into a colleague’s eyes for more than 5 seconds.
Netflix has neither confirmed nor denied these new rules but in a statement, they said they were proud of their anti-harassment training and want to make sure they offer a safe and respectful working environment to their employees. Read more about it here. While such policies appear to be well-intentioned on their face, the specificity of the requirements indicates a certain amount of activism in the workplace.
Last year, Netflix invested $100M in its “Netflix Fund for Creative Equity”, which makes it clear that Netflix’s priority with storytelling is that it needs to go through a diversity lens. The fund will allow Netflix to partner with organizations across the world in training members of underrepresented groups, who will, in turn, go on to produce content. The fund will also be used for internal purposes as it will allow Netflix to offer workshops and programs to the same underrepresented groups in the hopes they will take leadership roles in upcoming productions.
Since 2013, Netflix has been transparent about the makeup of its workforce and beginning in 2017 it has become dedicated to sowing the seed of “inclusion” within its structure. They’ve even had a VP of Inclusion for a while and in January 2021 they released their first report on the matter. In Netflix’s corporate culture, every issue, decision, and meeting, inside or outside the company must go through an “inclusion lens”. Is there a voice that is missing or excluded? Are we portraying this “authentically”?
Representation and equity are of the utmost importance to Netflix and it all starts with the hiring process. Not only do they have inclusion recruiting programs, but Netlfix also partners with many organizations that will help them reach recruits from a more diverse pool.
To further strengthen the sense of inclusion and belonging within Netflix, the company has created “Employee Resource Groups” (ERGs), which are essentially segregated groups based on gender, sexual preferences, or immutable characteristics. These are meant to be “safe spaces” for employees to celebrate their shared culture or particularities. As of today, Netflix has 16 ERGs.
Netflix is also about building a “consciousness”, and to that end, they hold seminars, workshops, and retreats while inviting guests to speak during these events. The first retreat centered on “privilege”, and each VP was tasked with positioning themselves on that spectrum. This is a well-known form of ideological indoctrination, promoted by the Identitarian-Left movement. To date, Netflix has held 120 events like this one and their guest list includes Kimberlé Crenshaw, Brittney Cooper, and Dr. Robin DiAngelo, among other such Identitarian activists.
The inclusion team now has six leaders spread across the different departments within the company and new employees are encouraged to build their “consciousness” and tackle all aspects of their work through the inclusion lens, even if the inclusion team is not present.
Last February, Netflix updated its 2021 report by highlighting the progress it made in terms of inclusion and diversity within its ranks, the growth of its inclusion strategy team, and prided itself on the 90 inclusion workshops it held throughout 2021, which 4500 employees attended.
With the presence of multiple department representatives and the various directives and events on the matter, it is very clear that the entire internal structure at Netflix is built on a DEI foundation. They have spent years and many millions of dollars building (and enforcing) a DEI corporate culture, but now they are suddenly open to all creative expression? Can content that does not conform to the ideology actually get a green light in such an environment?
The Content Provider
According to Netflix, its business model is the following: “we produce or acquire exclusive rights to many TV shows and movies while also partnering with content and studio providers to license rights for other titles”.
As previously mentioned, Netflix is training underrepresented individuals so they can take leadership roles in the content they produce. No doubt, the making of that content will have representation both behind and in front of the camera, and the stories told will hail from the same desire for diversity and inclusion.
One thing to remember is even though Netflix claims to produce content, the reality is they mostly give the money to production companies in exchange for producing exclusive content for them. Netflix exclusives like Stranger Things, Bird Box, and Black Mirror were produced by 21 Laps Entertainment, Bluegrass Films, and Endemol Shine UK respectively, the latter being a subsidiary of the largest content producer in the world, Banijay, a French media conglomerate. Does this mean Netflix will force their partners to hire the individuals they trained through their programs and workshops?
I would say this is likely, but perhaps they don’t even need to, as DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) has now permeated all levels of the cultural industries, from funding to unions, festivals and more. Let's break down this DEI chain.
As previously discussed in another Wrong Speak article here, our cultural institutions are now completely woke, this means that projects approved, are more than likely to come from artists or groups who abide by the diversity regime or have a DEI framework of their own as many governmental organizations and NGOs now require it.
When it comes to mainstream culture the situation is a bit different but the outcome seems the same. For instance, last year, the state of California passed bill SB 611 which would provide an additional 20% tax credits applicable on labour costs for positions filled by graduates from the state’s “Career Pathways Training Program”. To be eligible, producers need to file a workforce development plan which commits them to increasing diversity in hiring, and graduates of the program must fill positions in at least 60% of the production departments. Similar initiatives have been implemented in the state of New York, Illinois, New Jersey, and possibly more.
Right out of the gate this limits the projects that can be funded and greatly affect the makeup of the production teams who produce them.
Studios and production companies themselves now have a DEI framework, which affects who they hire and the projects they pursue. A quote from Bob Bakish, president and CEO of Paramount: “We strive to make diversity, equity and inclusion part of who we are – etched into the fabric of our workforce and culture, seen in the content we create and the partners we work with, and always reflecting the audiences and communities we serve.”
Janine Jones-Clark, who is the EVP of Inclusion – Talent & Content, NBCUniversal Film, Television and Streaming has the mandate to “cultivate, amplify, attract and retain an inclusive talent pool on-screen, behind the camera, and within the studio’s workforce.”
Warner Media released its equity and inclusion report last fall. Christy Haubegger, VP of Communications took the opportunity to share the following: “I firmly believe that talent is distributed equally in the world we live in today, but opportunity is not always evenly distributed; that is why we have an equity and inclusion strategy that has been put into place to open those opportunities – across our workforce, our content, our pipeline programs and the work we do within our communities.” Following a merger between Warner Media and Discovery in April, Ms. Haubegger was let go, but if her departing memo is any indication, the DEI framework she installed within the company will live on.
On the independent level, a great many production houses have their own DEI framework and many of them go so far as to get B-Certified, which is essentially a woke certification from the B Corporation.
Down the line, you have the unions, who supply technicians and artists to all these productions.
IATSE, which is the largest union in the entertainment industry with more than 150K members is fully on board the DEI train, it has a fully formed DEI committee, and last year, it co-signed a policy agenda with all of the major unions in the cultural field, asking the Congress to:
Increase federal arts funding and establish DEI objectives
Authorize the funding for a Chief Diversity Officer at the National Endowment for the Arts, National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting
Leverage federal tax incentives to encourage diverse hiring, following the lead of the aforementioned states who already do
And more. They are clearly doing their part to push for a more DEI regime which affects productions and their content.
Film festivals are more than just festivals, they are also markets where filmmakers and buyers can meet and strike deals. For buyers, it is a golden opportunity as they can gauge the reaction of an audience while sitting through a screening. Unfortunately, the big festivals have all fallen prey to DEI and this impacts their programming.
The Discovery program from the Toronto International Film Festival achieved gender parity with its lineup as far back as 2018.
The Tribeca Film Festival goes further. In its last edition, more than 60% of the films accepted by the festival were directed by women, BIPOC and members of the LBGTQ+ community.
For its part, this year’s South By Southwest festival reached 56% female representation in its feature film competition.
These festivals hold a wealth of workshops, panels and talks on DEI topics throughout their annual edition, see an example here. This obsession with gender parity stems from a desire to enforce quotas at all costs and renders merit obsolete as the quality of a film is now less important than the gender or skin color of its director.
Think about that for a minute.
Regardless of how you feel about awards like the Oscars, the Emmys, or the Golden Globes, they have become household names and their presence on a poster or other marketing material pretty much guarantees higher sales.
If a producer is sitting on a project that has the potential to win any of these awards, they have to consider the makeup of their production carefully. The BAFTAs in England and the Oscars now have diversity requirements both in front and behind the camera, and judging from the flak the Emmys receives every year about their lack of commitment to DEI, they just might cave in soon. Last year, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, which hosts the Golden Globes, made sweeping changes within its organization to be more diversified and inclusive. Could this also lead to them instituting diversity requirements in the nomination process? Who knows, but they certainly endure as much pressure as the Emmys.
A Process Of Curation
Let’s recap the process
The funding stage ensures which stories will be told and told by whom, either by their selection process or through tax incentives
Production companies themselves have instituted quotas for diversity, both within their ranks and in the makeup of the projects they wish to develop
Unions across the board in entertainment are fully committed to DEI, and they are powerful enough to lobby the government into pushing for more of the same on the federal and state levels
Film festivals have become obsessed with gender parity for the director position
Awards now require diversity both in front and behind the camera, and failure to fill their requirements will make a film or show not eligible for nomination
Before I come back to Netflix, I believe it is worth the time to pause here and consider the implications of the above.
How many films or shows will we never get to see because the projects were not funded due to the gender or ethnicity of the people who helmed the project?
How many of the same won’t be greenlit by production companies and studios for the same reason?
How many qualified artists and technicians have less access to working opportunities because of who they are?
Film festivals are denying access to a great many films simply because the director happens to be a male or doesn’t have the right skin color. Because of this, these films have less chance to find buyers, thus we might not get to see them.
Award shows have now thrown merit out the window, defeating the purpose of their existence entirely, throwing aside quality for ideology and politics, trading creativity and craft for activism and identity quotas.
At the end of this DEI production line, we the consumers are the ones with the most to lose as our screens are increasingly filled with subpar products that represent activism more than actual culture. As general audiences begin to tune out and disengage from content that feels fake, it is this process by which our culture is being subverted by propaganda. We lose the power of common culture to develop a sense of community among people, and society itself becomes increasingly fragmented, dividing people by identity and resentment, rather than fostering any real appreciation of difference and diversity. What a catastrophe.
To get back to Netflix, remember the phrase from their statement about their employees: “...you may need to work on titles you perceive to be harmful. If you’d find it hard to support our content breadth, Netflix may not be the best place for you.”. Since films and shows go through this entire DEI grinder well before they are dropped on the Netflix table, what is the likelihood their employees will ever come across titles they find harmful?
To me, the Netflix statement is just air.
But maybe there is a tiny glimmer of hope. As I was writing this article, Netflix dropped many animated series including the ones helmed by Ava Duvernay and the adaptation of Dr. Ibram Kendi. X, “Antiracist Baby”. Can we consider the statement and this drop to be a sign of Netflix shedding its woke ways? I don’t believe this is the case.
First, Netflix just downsized. Second, animated series have a longer production time on average versus live projects. Third, given the internal structure at Netflix and the years and millions of dollars they invested in building their own DEI framework and corporate culture I would find it very surprising if they were to pull a 180 at this point.
That being said, the most important factor to keep in mind is the following, Netflix can be as woke as they want to be internally, but outwardly they don’t need to appear as such. Netflix is the end of the line, the end of the process I lay down earlier. Our entire cultural system is now in the hands of progressives and what ends up at Netflix has gone through the DEI machine, the damage was done upstream. As far as Netflix is concerned it might be in their best interest to give the impression of neutrality, especially in light of the recent Disney debacle.
It’s quite genius when you think about it, and if I were them I would certainly opt to have a PR strategy to that effect. Since their statement was widely applauded, the move paid off. But, the fact that the move was widely applauded is both a sign and a message, that the general public and many artists and creators are fed up with woke DEI propaganda, and the various organizations, events, and companies that make up the film and arts industries might be smart to pay heed.
However, as long as our cultural institutions remain on board the DEI train, and Netflix either keeps its woke internal structure intact or draws a line and only considers producing or content made according to merit, I will consider them to be equally savvy and duplicitous, and so should you. At the same time, while the announcement by Netflix may have been a cynical marketing ploy, it speaks to very real concerns about the quality and integrity of arts and entertainment content, and freedom of expression.
Creative freedom and the expression of culture in a natural, inspired, non-contrived way, is what is at stake, and these politicized identity programs are anti-culture as much as they claim to be about diversity and inclusion. Organizations and companies like Netflix might finally be noticing this, but it will take more people complaining and showing their displeasure, to free them from the grip of this all-pervasive identitarian ideology.
In the meantime, we should consider these publicly-promoted statements to be little more than PR attempts to placate the audience, to fool people into thinking they actually value creativity and artistic integrity while making little to no real change for the better.
This marketing sleight of hand may have fooled many but it didn’t fool me. I must admit though, it was so masterful it would humble Copperfield himself.