Don’t Be Sucked In By Netflix And Performative Activism

netflix woke opinion film feature

The streaming service tries its hardest to be your progressive Gen-Z pal, and yet their actions and content expose a capitalistic emptiness at its core.

Netflix has long positioned itself as a platform tailored to Generation X, hot on the tails of social change and catering to all kinds of diverse content. Much of their content and marketing strategy display them as purveyors in diversity and up to date on current issues—however, their actions contrast this.

Increasingly large numbers of users are beginning to see through Netflix’s charade of being an ally, thanks in part to their contentious social media strategy. Nowadays, brands doggedly attempt to present in an ‘authentic’ way to users, typing like a woke friend. They present themselves informally, often communicating with other users through the likes of jokes and memes. It undoubtedly works: while the façade is recognized, it still remains engaging to many users who then retweet and share these memes further, quoting “that’s so me” and “#relatable.” Ultimately, Netflix’s social media strategy tries to distract you from remembering it is a brand making profit, by instead becoming just another person on your feed.

Of course the holy grail of social media is to achieve engagement, so Netflix share polls and ask questions they know will generate a response among fans. They speak on current issues through their platforms, tweeting their support for the Black Lives Matter movement last year and then adding a BLM category on the streaming service. However, the Gen-Z tone and ‘wokeness’ displayed by Netflix in their content is continually counteracted by their actions. They continue to promote diversity and equality, while favoring profit over representation with no repercussions.

Most recently, the company tweeted a thread about queer and POC women throughout cinematic history on International Women’s Day. Despite featuring a variety of incredible women and their work, however, many users pointed out one big issue. None of these films were actually available on the platform. Hundreds complained in the replies to the tweet with one user explaining how the billion-dollar company had now “informed the public how detached they are from women in film history.”

Today, Netflix is estimated to be worth at least $140 billion and is primarily data-driven when it comes to producing and creating content. Many, like Martin Scorsese, have criticized this anti-art content-machine approach to cinema, but that’s a different argument. From what their customers are currently consuming, Netflix make informed decisions from comprehensive data that will influence what they then create or buy for their service. The company claims to base its recommendations on feedback from every visit of theirs to the Netflix service. They reportedly re-train the algorithms with those signals to improve the accuracy of their prediction of what a customer is most likely to watch.

However, there have been discriminatory claims surrounding Netflix’s recommendation service. In 2017, they introduced software that would personalise the image a user would see when clicking on a title that would make ultimately make them more likely to watch certain shows. Yet once the algorithm was introduced, numerous POCs found that the thumbnail images they were seeing were racially driven and were often misrepresentative of the actual cast of the movie. For example, one user stated that their thumbnail for rom-com Love Actually was an image of the black British actor Chiwetel Ejiofor, who only has a minor role in the movie, thus race-baiting users into consuming content that wasn’t particularly diverse at all.

The cancellation of the Latinx led show One Day at a Time was also met with severe backlash, with many upset with Netflix for calling time on a show that represented the Latinx community without relying on stereotypes. In response to the backlash, Netflix explained on Twitter that it was due to low viewership that they could not “justify another season.” However, subscribers spent a combined 5.6 million hours watching it in the month leading up to and during the weekend season 3 premiered, and the show was particularly beloved among its Latinx users.

An enormous rift is clear: the entire capitalistic content machine at play, versus a brand and social media department tasked with presenting a woke, Gen-Z voice. Because of this, it’s difficult to say for sure whether their activism is performative or not. Perhaps it is cynical to say that meme-friendly banter is being used to mask capitalism’s insidious underbelly. To the current viewer, however, it may seem so.

By appearing like they are partaking in activism, Netflix’s audience and their credibility as a brand only grow. Yet, the company is devaluing their own progress. Viewers must remember that the company is not a ‘woke’ spokesperson on the internet, but a billion-dollar brand whose main interest is to take their money.

Words by Kara McCune

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