I’m bisexual, and my favorite movies are comedies. Today, I counted how many Gay & Lesbian comedies there are available to stream on Netflix, since there’s no film category for bisexuals. There were 43, out of the total 161 movies classified as Gay & Lesbian. I also spoke to a Netflix customer service representative, who told me that there are currently upwards of 36,000 titles available to stream. That means that movies about queer people are about .45% of what’s available to watch on the Netflix website.
It’s difficult to say how this lines up with the percentage of the American population that identifies as queer, given the very large range of results different studies have turned up. In the 1970s, Bruce Voeller of the US National Gay Task Force said that 10% of the population was gay, a statistic which he based off of Alfred Kinsey’s surveys. This statistic was largely contested, which was logical given that the basis for it was 30 years old and dubious in itself. The National Bureau of Economic Research says about 20%. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 4.6% of the U.S. population is gay, lesbian, or bisexual. A poll conducted by Gallup says 3.8% of adults identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender. Interestingly, a researcher named Gary J. Gates has found that younger people are much more likely to identify as non-heterosexual, which certainly rings true for me. Ultimately though, there’s no consensus and no clear answer.
However, even if we work under the assumption that Gallup, with the lowest estimate, is correct and only 3.8% of Americans are queer, the number of films available for us to view on this extremely popular website is entirely disproportionate. It’s bugged me for a while to see how few choices I have when I want to watch a movie about someone like me. This doesn’t just matter, though, because I’ve already seen The Itty Bitty Titty Committee and I can’t stream Better Than Chocolate or Kissing Jessica Stein (both of which I really do want to watch at some point). This matters because research has proven and proven that representation matters. For example, the 1947 study by Kenneth and Mamie Clark, which showed that, across races, children view whiteness as superior. The results of this study held true when Kiri Davis imitated the experiment in 2006. The marginalized group may be different, but the effects are the same.
This isn’t to say that Netflix is a horrible, anti-gay corporation. They do appear to make a concerted effort to be representative, such as with Orange is the New Black. This speaks to a larger cultural issue, though. If a streaming service that’s known for being inclusive, as well as for having an incredibly vast selection of titles, can only muster 161 Gay & Lesbian films, what does that say about our culture as a whole? If 3.8% of people watching Netflix are queer, then a fair share of films would be at least 1,368. So, there theoretically should be about eight and a half times as many movies about us as there currently are.
Personally, I’m just glad that I was able to watch But I’m a Cheerleader before it was removed.