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Gina Prince-Bythewood Voices Frustration over Netflix’s Handling of ‘Beyond The Lights’

Gina Prince-Bythewood Voices Frustration over Netflix's Handling of ‘Beyond The Lights’

What does
a black filmmaker have to do to get some respect around here?

Screenwriter
and director Gina Prince-Bythewood is not happy with Netflix over how her last film, “Beyond the Lights,” is being treated by the streaming platform, since its release there, and she has been very public about it over the last few days.

Specifically, she is upset
that the film is being lumped together with other black films only, instead of being marketed as a romantic drama for everyone, regardless of race.

In the “More
Like This” recommendations list of other films that is part of Netflix’s user interface, titles listed
with “Lights” include “Being Mary Jane”, “The Favorite Five”, “Pastor Brown”,
“Knocking on Heaven’s Door”, “A Mother’s Love” and “Note to Self”. Even episodes
of “A Different World” are on the “More Like This” list for “Beyond the Lights.”

Ms. Prince-Bythewood
states that this, in effect, ghettoizes not only her film, but other black films as well, suggesting that these are the only movies that black people want
to watch; That black audiences wouldn’t be interested in other romantic films (those that star white leads for example) and, that white audiences wouldn’t be interested in
watching similar kinds of films, but with black leads.

Further, she asks why films like the Johnny Cash biopic, “Walk the Line,” isn’t listed
in the “More Like This” section for “Beyond the Lights,” since, in effect, they’re both films about romantic relationships
centered around music.

She’s been voicing her displeasure on Twitter as follows:


So do you agree
with her? Does she have a point, or is she being oversensitive? To play devil’s advocate for a moment, could it be that what really bothers her are the quality of black films that
are on the “More Like This” list for her film? Would she object if films such as “Timbuktu”,
“Girlhood” and “Selma” were on the list?

What do you say?

***

EDITOR’S UPDATE: In reaction to Sergio’s above post, I reached out to Netflix to ask about how they categorize their titles as they come in. I haven’t received a reply yet, but I did a little digging to find past posts on Netflix’s tech blog, as well as interviews Netflix engineer executives have given in which they were asked about categorization of their films, and this is what I learned about their process. In short… from a Wired Magazine interview, Netflix says it has over 40 people “hand-tagging” TV shows and movies for them as they come in. These are typically freelancers who are TV and film buffs, some with experience in the entertainment industry, who are hired for this very specific purpose. Their job as “analysts” is to be objective, and they are trained accordingly. Adding to that Wired piece, the Consumerist website published an item on one of those so-called “analysts” as the Netflix exec calls them – a woman who makes some part-time income a movie tagger for Netflix. This is a portion of the piece: “She says she gets a list each week from Netflix HQ to let her know which handful of titles (around five at a time) she is supposed to watch and help to categorize. While watching, she uses a spreadsheet to take notes of all the info that goes into the 100+ data points used by Netflix to tag each title. “It covers everything from big picture stuff like storyline, scene and tone, to details of whether there is a lot of smoking in the movie,” the part-time tagger explains. “We’re looking for people who have knowledge of movies and TV shows,” explains Todd Yellin, vice-president of product innovation at Netflix. He explains that the woman… is a good fit because she is not just an independent film maker, but has also worked as a script supervisor — a very detail-oriented gig. Potential taggers must successfully pass a test before being hired… For their efforts, taggers earn a few hundred dollars a week.” Now while the above explanations may not directly address the “race” question, we can assume that, among the list of criteria that these movie taggers hired by Netflix are given to use in their categorizing of movies they watch, the race or ethnicity of the characters in each film, as well as the kind of story it tells, are likely somewhere on that list. For example, if it’s a “black film” (as in whether the film tells a story about black people), the movie taggers probably check a box on the form Netflix provides them, which is later entered into Netflix’s algorithm, which then ensures that *like* films are recommended together; hence the “More Like This” list of recommendations; at least, in part. Surely there are other criteria other than “race” on Netflix’s list, but it could be that certain criteria carry more weight than others, and “race” could be top-heavy. Again, I’m simply speculating here based on available info. When/if I hear back from Netflix, I’ll write up an entirely new post with what I learn. But, really, this isn’t anything new folks. It’s one result of a much wider industry practice with regards to how content is classified, which, in turn, can affect how a film or TV series is marketed, how much money is invested in its marketing, and even how much funding films or TV series that have received a certain classification, receive. Obviously the goal of most content creators is to have their creations reach as wide an audience as possible, regardless of skin color, and even general preference. Stay tuned…

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