The rise of strong, black leads on Netflix. What are you watching?

It goes without a doubt that time continues to reshape our media industry, with black and multi-ethnic talent receiving the recognition it deserves. Many online platforms have strongly advocated the need for equality by broadening their content range. With this being said, Netflix are known for having their own, exclusive titles premiering on the platform. One of their more recent titles, ‘Blood & Water’ became the second Netflix Original to come out of South Africa, and it made quite the entrance. ‘Blood & Water’ takes us on a gripping journey, following the life of a young, tenacious teen, on a mission to find her long lost sister, abducted at birth. Written by South African filmmaker, Nosipho Dumisa, the show provides us with the authenticity and cultural rawness that Netflix needs more of.


Blood & Water - Image Credit: Netflix

Set in Cape Town, ‘Blood & Water’ have a strong, multi-ethnic cast, shining light onto the emerging talent from South Africa. The shows lead star, ‘Puleng’, played by Ama Qamata, is a headstrong teen who’s resilience leads her to the untold truth, in hopes she can finally provide her family with answers. With female leads being significantly lower than male, Nosipho Dumisa ensures that "Blood & Water" defies all odds. It defeats the discriminatory standards against not only women but women of colour.


Black women continue to stride in both their big and small screen appearances, but it should be noted that their entrance into the industry is challenging due to the competition and inferiority placed upon them. It is clear how the character of Puleng and her defiance is a prominent aspect, and often shocking to others how a young teen can crack an intricate, missing person case, rather than the actual law enforcement.


With Netflix providing more ground for black creators, it paves the way for more diverse media. It’s no secret that the rise in multi-ethnic media empowers us all as Myles Worthington said it best, ‘Strong Black Lead means so much more than just the lead character—it's something that you can feel deeply inside of yourself’. It should be noted that a 2017 study confirms that out of 1,100 films, 29.3% of characters were from an "underrepresented racial/ethnic group.” However, Netflix are trying to reform this by introducing their ‘BLM’ category and their attempt to provide high budgets to production companies where exposure may be limited.


Furthermore, it is also great to see how screen writer and director Lauren Lungerich introduced the show ‘On My Block’ to Netflix as one of their Original instalments. It takes us on a riveting journey through a predominantly Hispanic and Black neighbourhood in South Central Los Angeles with a coming-of-age comedy series. The show enlightens us on the realities of teen life in deprived areas that are often shadowed from the media. Despite it’s uplifting, comical aspect, the show mirrors the ethical struggles that affect many countries around the world. With Netflix not only providing a platform to educate others on this, it once again shines light onto our underappreciated, emerging talent, as well as cultural awareness to defy stereotypes that are often all we know through the media.

On My Block - Image credit: Netflix

‘On My Block’ takes a different stance in comparison to ‘Blood & Water’ as it focuses on the lower, rough inner-cities, casted away from media. Although it may shy away from empowering ethnic minorities, it provides a different outlook on how wealthy cities have deprived areas almost adjacent to them. Lungerich does a great job in reminding us that these issues affect us all and are way beyond our fictional entertainment. The balance between these types of content presented through Netflix continue to increase in number, diversifying the content we are able to consume. With more streaming services extending their content like this, it begins to unify us more than we may know.


‘On My Block’ may appeal to a wider audience as it’s cast feature both Hispanic and Black leads. The cultural diversity presented throughout provides that sense of realism that often strays away from standard tv shows. It is also a great way to educate the non-Hispanic viewers as the show features native dialect and presents an accurate representation of the culture. These leads continue to dominate the scene with ‘On My Block’ being granted 3 seasons, with a season 4 heavily rumoured.


So, what does this big arrival of diversity to the platform mean? Earlier this year, Netflix tweeted that by saying ‘Black Lives Matter’ they are also saying that ‘Black storytelling matters’.


The rise in tv shows and movies being added to the platform highlights the empowering narratives from both black and multi-ethnic experiences. Similarly, what better way to transform these experiences through the art of storytelling from strong black and multi-ethnic leads. By developing an innate awareness to the issues around us but also acknowledging the often-shadowed talent from ethnic minorities, Netflix helps to reshape the future of media for the better. With new titles being added weekly, the streaming service is providing edifying sources for billions.

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