Editor's note: This month, Zimbio writers and editors are digging deep and exploring the unpopular opinions we feel most passionately about. Our first in the series explores why, contrary to widely-held belief, not everything Netflix touches turns to gold...
There are two certainties in life: Disney will eventually own everything, and Netflix will throw money at anyone with an idea. It's hard to recall a time when Netflix only rented DVDs through the mail, their bright red envelopes giving you access to a video store with nearly unlimited options. Since then, Netflix has transformed into a global streaming giant with the ability to turn any director's pipe dream into a reality. Inarguably, there have been major avenues for success. Netflix recently initiated a romantic-comedy renaissance and has given both women of color and disabled audiences things to watch from Always Be My Maybe to Special. But these are the exception, far from the rule, when it comes to Netflix.
There's a general response I give when I'm told to watch something on Netflix: "How terrible is it?" It's not that every movie on Netflix is bad, it's just that most are actually bad — and there's a reason for it. Netflix changed the model of distribution by helping creators get their movies out there without spending excessive budget on marketing and promotion that often goes hand-in-hand with screenings in a theater. But with a lack of promotion and marketing comes a lack of risk on Netflix's part. They aren't spending any money on the product except acquiring it, so quality doesn't necessarily need to be high.
Yet, the streaming company has cultivated an array of impressive directors from Cary Fukunaga to Martin Scorsese, and fostered new talent that may not have received a chance at success had their films been released in theaters. But it's often easy to see why these movies didn't warrant theatrical releases. Reviews for features like The Cloverfield Paradox, Mute, and Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile have been mixed to negative. A movie like Bright, David Ayers' fantasy allegory about race relations received some of the most savage reviews a film could obtain yet was still green-lit for a sequel. It's as if Netflix thrives off the controversy of releasing terrible movies, and that doesn't make them arbiters of taste. It just proves that in a landscape where so much content is available, they literally can't lose.
In examining Netflix's features, it's hard to ignore what receives a majority of their attention (and their advertising dollars): white male directors whose films often yield controversy. When Duncan Jones' Mute was released, audiences ravaged the film for its mistreatment of women ⏤ in the movie, a woman is literally killed and stuffed in a refrigerator ⏤ and its subplot involving pedophiles and a small child. Most recently, the horror film The Perfection also included a pedophilia and rape plot line, and spent half its runtime showing steamy (and male gaze-centric) lesbian sex. Movies like Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile and the documentary The Ted Bundy Tapes (both directed by Joe Berlinger) portrayed the serial killer as a charming schemer, which ultimately lead to a bizarre social media discussion about Ted Bundy's attractiveness. Yes, these movies garnered attention from women, but these films espoused a male point-of-view in the hope of capturing male audiences exclusively.
Netflix has courted controversy with people they employ behind the cameras, too. In 2017, Matt and Ross Duffer, creators of the popular series Stranger Things, coerced a teenage girl into an unscripted kiss. Later, in 2018 they were also accused of verbal abuse of their cast and crew, as well as creating a hostile work environment ⏤ accusations they denied. The feature film Girl recently came under fire after Netflix announced a full frontal nude scene with an underage girl would not be included on the streaming service. It also received criticism from trans writers regarding the casting of a cisgender woman. Then you have Max Landis, the screenwriter of Bright, who has a wealth of accusations against him, ranging from sexual assault to online bullying, stalking, and harassment. Arguably, these concerns are a result of systematic discrepancies on Netflix's part. Let's not forget Danny Masterson, formerly of Netflix's The Ranch, who was accused of sexual assault by multiple women. Netflix initially refrained from kicking Masterson off the series until a Netflix executive was caught openly telling a victim that he didn't believe her allegations against the actor.
These issues are indicative of something more insidious about Netflix and its community: that it's a boy's club catering to male interests. The fact that none of the male directors, actors, or showrunners here received any condemnation from Netflix, and in fact kept their jobs (except for Masterson), is scary. Like a major studio, Netflix desperately protects the men it believes make money, regardless of what they do in their personal life. If Hollywood studios are willing to clean house, Netflix should as well. Sure, some female directors occasionally receive a platform on Netflix, but based on what's green-lit, grabbed up, and distributed, it remains predominately male centric.
All of this leaves a bitter taste in my mouth when it comes to Netflix. The streaming giant is lagging, and it can do better. It's movies will continue to garner wide audiences, though Netflix doesn't release viewership details, so we'll have to take its word about millions tuning in. Change doesn't happen overnight, but it's worth doing a double take before you hit the play button on Netflix. You might just discover something distasteful behind the camera.