Monday, January 26, 2009

The intersection of race and Netflix

I use Netflix. A lot, actually. I watch a lot of series that way, and I like movies, and I don't have TV reception, so it works well for me.

I have issues with the "Movies You'll Love" function, though.

They generate the "Movies You'll Love" list based on movies you've already rated. So if you liked Season 1 of The Office, they'll recommend Season 2 of The Office, or the first season of the UK version of The Office. I like stuff like that.

Among the nearly 200 movies I have rated is:
  • Malcolm X

As a result (and I know that it's as a result of that movie, because Netflix tells me so), the movies that have been recommended to me include but are in no way limited to, because probably 40 percent of my recommendations are now because I liked that one movie:
  • Hotel Rwanda
  • Brother to Brother
  • Ray
  • Richard Pryor: Live on the Sunset Strip
  • Chris Rock: Never Scared
  • A Piece of the Action
  • The Best Man
  • Yesterday
  • The Brother from Another Planet
As far as I can discern, the only things those movies all have in common with each other, or with Malcolm X, is that they all have black people in them. Some of them have an actual civil rights/activist/biopic bent, but the common thread seems to be, just, black people.

Thoughts? It's weird, right?


Joe said...

Hey CMC,

There's apparently a lot of chatter out there regarding the ratings/recommendation system at Netflix. . .they have a contest going on right now where members can come up with ways to improve it. . .the link is here, but I warn you, I didn't read the whole thing because they started talking about algorithms and stuff.

Anonymous said...

Interesting post. Friends and I used to be able to watch previews at the local movie theater here in New Hampshire and predict which ones were not likely to come to Keene based on their having black protagonists. To see "X" we had to go to Boston or Brattleboro. We could also predict which previewed movies WOULD come to Keene according to how dumb they looked - movies like "Snow Day," "Suburban Commando" and anything with Vin Diesel were certain to be here. Don't get me wrong. I love dumb movies from time to time, but I'm glad to say that new ownership of the theater about 5 years ago made our little game a lot less predictable. Another sign of a more enlightened cultural barometer in this area is that fewer local kids are dressing like Mexicans for Halloween.

bzzzzgrrrl said...

Interesting, anonymous. I actually did see Malcolm X in Keene-- at the Colonial, though, and about six months after it had closed everywhere else in the universe.

Also, went to the other theater this weekend. You will be glad to know that Mall Cop is playing locally.

Amanda said...

This is not about Netflix's racism, because I don't know what to add to that except to say WTF? and to wonder movies it would suggest for me after my recent "Man on Wire," "Ghost Town" night at the movies. Lots of documentaries? Lots of zombie flicks? Dentist visits did feature prominently in both flicks so maybe I'd get some dental-related films, if such things exist. But your "Mall Cop" note reminded me of my own dollop of snark on what was an otherwise blissful post-inaugural morn. I almost sent an email to you and a few others saying "Just when you think the country's turned a corner, Mall Cop is the No.1 movie in the country."
But I went back to looking a gazillion photos of the Obamas online.

(I'm trying to cut back on the snark, after calling into a radio show today to talk with the author of "Snark.")

Not off to a great start am I?

Cousin Mouse said...

I went full-on, ramming speed snarky on Inauguration day. All that sweetness and light was like waving a red flag in my face. It wasn't Obama so much, it was all those out-of-towners on MY subway, not standing to the right on the escalators.

Malcom X and movies in NH. My favorite part of X was the zoot-suiter scene. The rest was edifying, but I would love a whole Spike Lee movie about Harlem zoot-suiters.

I had the same observation about movies showing in NH. I was shocked to see "Shaft" playing (1969 or 70?)at the Concord Theater, not only because it went totally against the grain, but because it was a "blaxploitation" film and that didn't seem politically correct.

There's a lot more to that train of thought, but I have work to do and I'm going on too long for a "comment". Maybe I should start my own blog - "What's Left of Cousin Mouse's Memories."

bzzzzgrrrl said...

I would read that blog, cuz.

I can even get you started by forwarding back some post-worthy e-mails on just that subject that you've sent me from time to time.