Story at a glance

  • More Americans are tuning into Netflix shows than ever before due to ongoing stay-at-home orders.
  • Netflix reported 2.3 million new U.S. subscribers in their recent quarterly earnings report.
  • Programming by the streaming giant has been refreshingly diverse, and their latest releases have been no exception.
  • New titles such as “The Half of It” and “Never Have I Ever” shine a spotlight on unique storylines that show how successful diverse casting can be.

While the coronavirus pandemic continues to keep Americans indoors in an attempt to flatten the curve, people have found increasingly interesting ways to spend their time. Tracking their sourdough starters, knitting and learning new languages are just a few of the activities people have begun to participate in, but by far the most popular has remained television binging. 

Streaming giant Netflix had the earnings report to prove it late last month as well, with over 2 million new subscribers in the U.S. alone. Netflix has said that it’s “looking forward to releasing all of our originally planned shows and films (with some language dubbing impacts on a few titles),” which is good news for all of us who are bored in the house.

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Some of Netflix’s most recent drops, which have included both exclusive series and films, have been providing a shining use case of how diverse casting can work for hit programming. All that is thankfully missing from them is the use of “hit you over the head” messaging — the kind that makes diverse casting seem cliche and exploitative. 

Take for example their newest hit movie that just premiered Friday, a unique coming-of-age story called “The Half of It.” The story takes place in a small Pacific Northwestern town called Squahamish, centering on the quiet, overachieving Ellie Chu played by young actress Leah Lewis. Ellie has developed a small but successful business of writing her classmates’ essays for them for a small fee, but is served a much more interesting request from jock Paul Munsky. Paul has a crush on one of their classmates, but can’t find the words to tell her, which is where Ellie comes in.

The plot twist? Ellie happens to have a crush on the same girl. We won’t give away too much more, but fans are already singing its praises and demanding a sequel. The film also currently has a 96 percent rating by popular website Rotten Tomatoes. “The Half of It” is a refreshing take on the romantic comedy, which so often follows a cookie cutter plotline and features stories of heterosexual romance with Caucasian leads.  

Viewers have also been raving about “Never Have I Ever,” an endearingly relatable romantic comedy series created by Lang Fisher and Mindy Kaling of “The Office” and “The Mindy Project.” Kaling has long been an advocate for diversity, having spoken in numerous interviews about her embarrassment in the past of once feeling like a “diversity hire.”  

“For all of us in the writers’ room, particularly those of us who were the children of immigrants, which comprised most of my staff, it was about sharing those stories of feeling ‘other,’” Kaling, who is also a first-generation Indian-American, recently told The New York Times. “One of the best parts about being in that room was realizing that they felt so many of the same things I did, and it was such a relief. It made me feel like, ‘OK, I’m, like, normal.’”

The show features a cast composed almost entirely of POCs, but the physical representation isn’t what makes it great — it’s the fact that true diversity allows the characters within said cast to be complex and multi-layered, avoiding worn cliches that could come across as tone deaf, or send the wrong message.

“I find it funny, because to the average white American, we're probably the same. To me, it's really a narcissism of small differences to the average American person looking at someone who is dark-skinned, Indian Hindu person and a dark-skinned, Indian Muslim person,” said Kaling.

Published on May 01, 2020