Are Netflix and Amazon failing QPOC?

GLAAD’s annual Where We Are on TV study has unveiled some pretty shocking representation statistics.

by Douglas Greenwood
14 January 2021, 5:22pm

Still from Pose. Photo by Pari Dukovic. Courtesy of FX

Streaming services like Netflix, Amazon and Hulu collectively fell behind when it came to telling stories that favoured queer narratives and starred Black queer folks or queer people of colour in their original TV output, a new study by GLAAD has shown. 

We see these media pioneers as the ones willing to take creative risks, having watched filmmakers’ risky passion projects dismissed by Hollywood as too niche, go on to become Oscar-nominees in the hands of Netflix in particular. (Think of Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma or that really long mob movie Scorsese made, The Irishman.) 

But new data released today in GLAAD’s Where We Are on TV study — one that tracks LGBTQ+ representation on television — shows that this dream-making artistic narrative may only stretch as far as cishet stories made by — and, for the most part, about — white cishet men.

The comprehensive study, which sets inclusion benchmarks for television studios across streaming, terrestrial broadcasters (regular TV) and cable, dissected all shows that will have aired between June 2020 and May 31, 2021. In their study, there’s some particularly interesting information on the progress of the streaming giants.

Netflix alone will release an original film every week, but not since the release of Tales of the City in the summer of 2019 have they commissioned or aired an original series with a majority LGBTQ+ cast. Shows like Ryan Murphy’s Pose, of course, are popular on the platform, but they were commissioned by FX, the US cable channel who, as a result, favoured a little better in the study.

Streaming services had disappointing results when it came to the diversity of their 110 LGBTQ+ characters, casting more white people than people of colour. Progress has been made on that front (this figure has increased 6% since 2019-2020), but it remains the only sector of the TV industry to not break the 50% barrier. 

The picture is similarly bleak across all streaming platforms when it comes to transgender and non-binary characters, with just nine appearing in original series on Netflix, Amazon and Hulu. Pose’s success means cable leads the way on that front, but even that is struggling to keep up. The pandemic has meant that most TV networks have struggled to continue producing shows, with many delayed or cancelled. The study lists Euphoria, Gentleman Jack, The L Word: Generation Q and Killing Eve as cable shows that will allow diversity, both in terms of race and queerness, to rebound in 2021-2022. LGBTQ+ characters on primetime shows dropped too, from 10.2 to 9.1 per cent. 

But the most overlooked minority across the board remains asexual characters. Across all television platforms in the US, only one is expected to appear on screens before the study’s May deadline arrives. We don’t what show yet — as it’s under embargo. 

So is there anything good to come from GLAAD’s study this year; something to be hopeful for? If anything, there’s a chance that streaming giants will be woken by their lagging approach to diverse queer representation across the board, and start to allocate some of those big budgets to projects that put them at the forefront more often. With a boom in queer fiction, and queer YA ficton, especially, they’re in a prime position to snag the adaptation rights to a hot property and bring some of the prestige they applied to The Crown and Mindhunter to an LGBTQ+-leaning story as well.

Oh, and one subsect of the community did note an increase in a year that was pretty crap for everyone else: bisexual representation went up 2% from the 2019-2020 study. Ever resilient; always iconic. In the midst of a pandemic, the bis beat us all.