Picking something to watch on Netflix can be tricky at the best of times. Some users of the streaming service are complaining, however, that the process is even tougher when movies are promoted in misleading ways. The issue was raised on Twitter by writer and podcast host Stacia L. Brown who suggested Netflix is putting pictures of black actors as certain movies lead image, even if said actors only play a minor role in the title. This in turn, she suggests, is duping users into thinking some movies and TV shows are more diverse than they actually are.
For example, Like Father is a comedy starring Kristen Bell as a jilted bride who ends up taking her honeymoon with her estranged father, played by Kelsey Grammar. Despite having two white actors in the lead roles, Brown alerted her followers to the fact that the movie was advertised to her with pictures of Leonard Ouzts and Blaire Brooks who "had maaaaaybe a 10 cumulative minutes of screen time. 20 lines between them, tops.”
Other Black @netflix users: does your queue do this? Generate posters with the Black cast members on them to try to compel you to watch? This film stars Kristen Bell/Kelsey Grammer and these actors had maaaaybe a 10 cumulative minutes of screen time. 20 lines between them, tops. pic.twitter.com/Sj7rD8wfOS— stacia l. brown (@slb79) October 18, 2018
Other users backed Brown's experience, saying that they had comes across similar examples including a Love Actually poster suggesting the movie is a love story between Chiwitel Ejiofor and Keira Knightley's characters. This tactic has been criticized as being being “creepy,” “racist,” and “insidious” by black users.
Brooklyn-based film-maker Tobi Aremu told The Guardian that he recently watched Set It Up, “which was made to look like a two-hander between Taye Diggs and Lucy Liu, but they were secondary characters in the love story of a young white couple!”
Netflix has, in the past, been upfront about its use of personalized artwork. In a 2017 blogpost the company outlined plans to target users with tailored images pertaining to their tastes and preferences. Netflix data, according to the blogpost, shows that 82% of a users decision on whether to watch a movie or TV show is based on the artwork attached to the title.
Reached for comment, Netflix told The FADER: "Reports that we look at demographics when personalizing artwork are untrue. We don't ask members for their race, gender, or ethnicity so we cannot use this information to personalize their individual Netflix experience. The only information we use is a member's viewing history. In terms of thumbnails, these do differ and regularly change. This is to ensure that the images we show people are useful in deciding which shows to watch."