Netflix says it needs more Latinx programming after an internal diversity audit

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Photo courtesy: Sara Khalid/NETFLIX

(CNN) -- Netflix has made progress adding diverse content created by and starring women, Black and Asian people on its platform in recent years, but the streaming service and film studio hasn't had the same success yet with increasing Latinx representation, according to a new study it commissioned.

The Netflix diversity audit was conducted last year by the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, an entertainment industry diversity think tank, which unveiled its findings on Friday. Researchers examined 126 Netflix original movies and 180 original scripted series posted on the platform from January 2018 through December 2019.

The demographic analysis revealed just 4.5% of main cast members went to Latinx actors and filmmakers during that two-year span, even though Latinos make up roughly 18% of the US population.

The percentage of Black main cast members on Netflix reached 22.7% in 2019, up from 16.2% in 2018. About 13% of the United States is Black. Asian individuals, who comprise about 6% of the United States, were about 7% of Netflix main cast members in 2018 and 2019.

Women of all races, who make up about 51% of the United States, represented 52% of leads and co-leads in Netflix original films and series over the two-year span. Researchers also said Netflix needs more content centered on Native Americans, members of the LGBTQ+ community and people with disabilities.

Lead author Stacy L. Smith says Netflix is "doing quite well" when it comes to leading roles going to women and most people of color. But the streaming service — and Hollywood at large — still have a major problem greenlighting films and shows made by and starring Latinos, who researchers have determined purchase more movie tickets per capita than any other US racial demographic group.

In 2018, Latinos purchased 23% of movie tickets sold in the United States, according to a Motion Picture Association of America study. The collective buying power of US Latinos reached $1.3 trillion in 2015 and was projected to reach $1.9 trillion by 2023 prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, according to Nielsen data.

"The industry is at the floor on Latinx representation," Smith told CNN Business on Thursday. "We're hoping numbers like this will help to really ignite a movement in the community."

Netflix said this week that it needs to greenlight more original Latinx content. The studio recently hired former Sony film executive Alexander Zahn to manage its indie film team and tapped Jennifer Lopez to play an assassin in a new film called "The Mother."

"Ugly Betty" star America Ferrera is also set to make her directorial debut in a new Netflix series called "I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter" — based on author Erika Sánchez's bestselling novel.

"It should be companies like ours and other studios helping in that space," Netflix Vice President of Global Film Scott Stuber said of recruiting Latin-American talent during a virtual symposium on Thursday. "It's important for us to reach out to the people in that community to tell stories, but also to help build bridges. It's something we're working hard on as a company."

Hollywood studio executive Jaime Davila Jr. founded Campanario in 2014 to help give voice to more Latinx actors and filmmakers. The 36-year-old former Bravo network producer, whose father worked in the C-suite at Univisión and Televisa, says the lack of Latinos in executive leadership at major studios and misconceptions about Latinx audiences are to blame for the dearth of English-language, Latin-American movies and TV shows.

"Oftentimes because we speak Spanish, they're like, 'Oh, let's get our Spanish edition on that,'" Davila told CNN Business. "My goal is for Hollywood to wake up. We've shown them there's this huge audience. What are you making for them?"

Davila's studio has produced and sold several hit shows to major studios, including Netlfix and Disney-owned ABC. Netflix purchased "Selena: The Series" from Campanario before airing it in December.

Both Smith and Davila said Hollywood needs to hire more Latin-American executives.

"There aren't a lot of Latino producers and gatekeepers at these networks," Davila said. "There's incredible stories that can come out of our community. I'm not doing something that's crazy or secret. I'm just covering the world."

This story was first published on CNN.com, "Netflix says it needs more Latinx programming after an internal diversity audit"