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What Squid Game's Emmy Says About the Desire for Diversity

International streaming brings more global entertainment options to families and offers more diverse representation to kids and teens.

Topics: Quality Media
Scene from Netflix's Squid Game

As streaming services work to satisfy ever-increasing demand for new and unique programming options, global entertainment has become an important part of the mix for U.S. audiences. Many families want to see content developed with local cultures, from compelling stories to realistic characters and cultural nuances. And the rising popularity of international programming has the added benefit of being healthy for the kids and teens watching.

As it increasingly presented international content with subtitles and dubbing, Netflix earned credit for breaking through the industry bias that U.S. audience wouldn't watch shows in other languages. This was no fluke, but an intentional strategy for Netflix. In early 2021, the company pledged to invest $500 million in South Korean content. This focus, along with a fresh idea and a great team behind and in front of the camera, has led to Squid Game breaking viewership records for Netflix. When Squid Game's Hwang Dong-hyuk became the first Asian director to win the drama series category at this year's Emmy Awards, and the show received a groundbreaking 14 nominations and six total wins, it showed major strides in diversity and inclusion at the television industry's biggest recognition program.

Other streaming content providers are also expanding their programming internationally. For example, Disney+ has plans to commission 50 new shows in Europe by 2024. Recognitions like those earned by Squid Game reflect the growing popularity of diverse global programming, and they've also opened the door to more international kid-friendly content. Audiences are increasingly seeking content that tells their stories. According to a recent poll by NPR/Ipsos, 60% of respondents said that streamers do a good job of showing characters that reflect their identity. People are migrating to platforms that have broad and more diverse content offerings that break through stereotypes and show authentic, positive representation.

Common Sense Media's research has shown that media representation influences how kids build their understanding of both their own ethnic-racial group, and that of others. Our studies have also revealed how seeing positive portrayals of their culture or race makes kids everywhere feel included and celebrated. Small nuances can make a big difference to kids, such as seeing Josh from Blue's Clues & You singing a song about his Filipino heritage, celebrations of Diwali in Mighty Little Bheem, and a biracial family thriving in Transformers: EarthSpark. Our research has shown that when kids see their own cultural backgrounds and values represented, it has a positive effect on their mental well-being.

Parents and caregivers are also looking to the media to help their kids understand different cultures and build acceptance and inclusion. Media exposes people to other cultures and serves as a window to the world. Global content provides opportunities for adults to help their kids understand different cultures, building acceptance and inclusion on a larger scale.

Below are several examples of programs from around the globe that are delivering strong, authentic representations and performing well with viewers. These international shows not only celebrate racial and cultural diversity, but also push the envelope of storytelling with the inclusion of neurodiverse people and other underrepresented groups. There are many opportunities for growth in the United States when it comes to the production of diverse content.

As streaming content options evolve, our team will expand our global content reviews to continue to provide the largest, most trusted library of independent age-based ratings and reviews. These reviews, which include a rating for diverse representations, will help families identify media with positive messages and representations that will have a favorable impact on their kids' development.

Polly Conway
As Common Sense Media's Senior TV Editor, Polly is responsible for championing the latest and greatest in TV for kids and families. She's an expert in the realm of shows that are created for (and/or appeal to -- not always the same thing!) kids, tweens, and teens, with a particular focus on educational television for young kids. An enthusiastic advocate for positive representation of girls and women in media, she also has her finger on the pulse of pop culture and speaks to the press regularly about the good and bad of kids' TV (highlights include a chat with the legendary Weird Al!). Before coming to Common Sense, Polly spent time developing her own writing career and served as an educator in Oakland's diverse schools. Both helped her discover a deep desire to give kids the best possible media experiences. Additionally, her BA in Acting from San Francisco State and MFA in Writing from California College of the Arts have given her a unique understanding of how great media is created, and she's always happy to discuss any episode of her #1 whole-family TV pick, Star Trek: The Next Generation. Email Polly at [email protected] or find her on Twitter.