Proof: Problematic Netflix Shows
By depicting graphic sex and sexual assault, Netflix contributes to sexual objectification and soft-core pornographic themes in mainstream entertainment. Particularly through graphic depictions of sexual assault, Netflix increases the likelihood that a victim of past assault will be negatively triggered by the content, and it decreases the likelihood that viewers will thoughtfully analyze the harms of sexual exploitation. It would be easy for Netflix to portray the harms of sexual violence or lack of sexual consent without simultaneously “profiting” from a sexually objectifying and voyeuristic motif.
Further, given the highly competitive nature of the media industry, and the fact that many young actors have minimal economic security, the choice to “turn down” a job can end an actors career before it even began. Therefore, by producing such a high volume of content requiring nudity, Netflix adds to the industry pressure for young actors to accept parts requiring nudity, until they have enough industry capital to negotiate their own contracts. In the age of #MeToo, and heightened awareness about the imbalance of power Hollywood producers can exercise over actors, it is a thin and porous line between script-required nudity and the “requirement” to grant “sexual favors” on the producer’s casting couch. No person should be required to remove their clothes in order to get a job.
Besides the unnecessary inserting of graphic sex scenes into mainstream entertainment, Netflix has increasingly allowed harmful depictions of child sexuality or sexual exploitation. Examples of these, include:
- Gratuitously Graphic Depictions of Sexual Assault: As one example, Netflix Original 13 Reasons Why (TV-MA) is filled with several extremely graphic depictions of sexual assaults of both depicted teen females and males.
- Minimization of Child Sex Trafficking: Netflix Original Baby (TV-MA) follows a group of teenagers on their quest to buck “social norms” through prostitution. Unfortunately, this show is 1) based on a real-life sex trafficking case of minors and 2) portrays underage prostitution (by definition, underage prostitution is sex trafficking) as an “edgy” coming of age story. On National Human Trafficking Awareness Day, in 2018, the National Center on Sexual Exploitation and 54 other anti-trafficking organizations and advocates sent a letter to Netflix pointing out the duality of their practices and requesting the service halt production on the show.
- Borderline Child Pornography: Netflix streamed the film Desire which portrays a 9-year-old girl masturbating with a pillow and includes close-up shots of her face during orgasm as a 7-year-old girl watches. Department of Justice guidelines on child pornography state: “Notably, the legal definition of sexually explicit conduct does not require that an image depict a child engaging in sexual activity. A picture of a naked child may constitute illegal child pornography if it is sufficiently sexually suggestive. Additionally, the age of consent for sexual activity in a given state is irrelevant; any depiction of a minor under 18 years of age engaging in sexually explicit conduct is illegal [emphasis added].” At the minimum, this scene clearly inappropriately sexualized a child, and unfortunately, this is a trend since Netflix seems to increasingly embrace objectifying and degrading depictions of sex and sexual assault. Further, it is reported that Netflix will be streaming underage full-frontal nudity in the film Girl.
Below is a limited sampling of graphic content on Netflix:
TRIGGER WARNING: Brief descriptions of sexually explicit activities below.
Researchers at NCOSE recently took a dive into 10 of the top original Netflix titles to see what kind of content is being shown on our screens. Looking at the pilot episodes only, we used the VidAngel filtering service to see what sorts of filters are available for each individual episode. Here is a sample of what we found:
- All but one of the titles reviewed were rated TV-MA.
- 80% of the reviewed pilots had explicit nudity.
- 9 out of 10 featured on-screen sex scenes.
- 100% of these shows were tagged multiple times with “sexual references/innuendo”.
Keep in mind that this information came from only the first episode of each series, and Netflix offers hundreds of other titles showing similar content. Many popular Netflix shows contain soft-core pornographic sex scenes and unexpected nudity, including Ozark (TV-MA), Orange is the New Black (TV-MA), Glow (TV-MA), Sense8 (TV-MA), Altered Carbon (TV-MA), and more.
13 Reasons Why (TV-MA) is also filled with graphic depictions of sexual assaults. Below is a summary of sexual content in season two alone:
- Episode 4: A photo shows a teenage boy engaged in sex with an unconscious teenage girl (shown w/nudity); a photo shows a teenage boy as he rapes a teenage girl (shown w/nudity); A teenage girl grabs a teenage boy’s genitals through his pants and talks about sexual assault;
- Episode 5: Two teenage boys talk about sexual pleasure and pornography; A teenage boy looks at pornography. A woman talks to the teenage boy seductively; A teenage boy talks to a woman in lingerie through a webcam; The pictures of the sex with an unconscious girl; a teenage boy pleasures himself using pornography (shown w/nudity); Several women’s breasts can be seen; A photo of a man in tight underwear can be seen–the top of his genital area is visible;
- Episode 6: Teenage boy and girl have sex shown w/nudity; Teenage girl wears thong underwear and is topless;
- Episode 10: Sexually explicit texts are visible on a teenage boy’s cell phone; Several photos of teenage girls in sexual positions with teenage boys are visible; Nude teenage boy is shown in a photo; the sexual assault photos;
- Episode 11: Two teenage boys talk about oral sex; a teenage girl is raped; a teenage girl’s groan is heard during a sexual assault; girl tells graphic details of her sexual assault;
- Episode 12: Teenage boy takes secret lewd pictures of a teenage girl and shows other teen boys
- Episode 13: Graphic depiction of a boy anally raped with a broom by a group of other boys in the school locker room; detailed verbal description of a sexual assault on a teenage girl
Superhero TV Series by Netflix with Sexually Graphic Content
To break down some of the concerns surrounding the Marvel series, we looked at parenting websites and blogs that are talking about these shows. All 5 of these programs were rated by Common Sense Media to be suitable for only audiences 15 years old and up, with several being rated at even higher ages.
Jessica Jones and Luke Cage were the highest, rated for audiences 17 and up. The Defenders was rated 16+, and The Iron Fist and Daredevil were the lowest at 15+. Additionally, Netflix has rated all of these shows as TV-MA, which is based on television industry-standard ratings. Compared to some of Marvel’s other popular cinematic titles such as The Avengers, rated PG-13, these ratings are much higher and are rife with more severe content such as graphic sex scenes, storylines involving rape and human trafficking, and extreme violence.
Looking at the oldest age suggestions, Jessica Jones and Luke Cage, in-depth on Common Sense, both shows are rated 4 out of 5 for sex on the parents guide. For Jessica Jones, this means “Simulated sex, with bare skin but no sensitive parts (aside from buttocks) visible; rape is strongly suggested but not shown on-screen”. Luke Cage’s description reads “Steamy kissing and making out with skimpy lingerie, bare chests, views of bare breasts from the side; sex isn’t simulated but strongly suggested”.
One parent reviewed Luke Cage, saying, “The inappropriate and gratuitous sex will alienate many viewers, and especially families”. Another said about Jessica Jones, “Why should I be entertained by watching brutal, abusive, extended sex scenes?” Clearly these shows contain extreme sexual content and should not be seen by children, even those that are fans of superheroes or Marvel.
The other 3 shows are also not exempt from sexual content. The Defenders was rated with 4 out of 5 for the sex category, and Daredevil received a 2. The Iron Fist was the lowest, with Common Sense saying “not present”. However, many parent reviews say differently, making even the most “tame” Marvel show still graphic. Some parent quotes include:
- On The Iron Fist—“Highly dismayed by the inaccuracy of Common Sense Media’s description. I would not have started watching this series had they properly represented what is in it…I [avoid] sexual content, and this site claiming that it is ‘not applicable’ is untrue”.
- On The Defenders—“The language is mild but the sex is the main issue for kids”.
- On Daredevil—“Children who love The Avengers should not be watching this”.
We also looked at the IMDB Parents Guide section for each of these shows. Here is a condensed breakdown of what we found:
- All 5 shows had at least 5 reviews for “moderate” sex and nudity.
- 3 including Jessica Jones, Daredevil, and Luke Cage had reviews indicating “severe” sex and nudity.
- 100% of the countries with certifications on IMDB listed these shows as at the very youngest 13+.
- Additionally, 44% of country certifications listed these shows as 18+.
- Some of the individual descriptions for these graphic scenes include “hard thrusting” (The Defenders), “in a strip club scene, the camera lingers on women with exposed breasts” (Luke Cage), “bare shoulders and breasts from a view in the shower” (Daredevil), and “a woman is thrusting on top of a man. They moan loudly with movements shown” (Jessica Jones).