Building Cultural Competency through Storytelling with Bela Bajaria

Bela Bajaria via Netflix


The following blog post was contributed by Bela Bajaria, head of Global TV for Netflix and guest [speaker/performer] at culturefix, our inaugural cultural diplomacy celebration on June 9, 2021. 

What inspired you to pursue a career in TV and international programming specifically?

I was born in London and moved to the U.S. with my family when I was 8. One of the ways I learned to speak with an American accent was by immersing myself in American TV – Bewitched, I Dream of Jeannie, and so many others. What that also did was it make me believe in the power of storytelling. I love the impact a story can have – to make you think, cry, laugh, be inspired, moved and entertained.

How have your TV and global media experiences enhanced your cultural competency? Why is that so important now more than ever?

It’s more important than ever to have cultural competency because we’re all more connected than ever. Historically, Hollywood exported television shows from the US to the world – but now there’s been a paradigm shift where we are making television shows all over the world and sharing them with a global member base. To do that, cultural competency is key for all of our teams. We work with talented creative executives, writers, directors, and crews in many countries around the world, and have learned more about their cultures and experiences through our collaboration.

What is your view of the role of TV in advancing understanding of and among cultures around the world?

Sometimes TV can be a mirror where you see yourself or culture reflected back to you and that is important – to see yourself; other times, TV is a window to peek into another culture or group and learn about their stories – that helps build cultural affinity. When we watch TV we see ourselves and each other. It can also be an escape and a way to travel the world from your couch – something we’ve all needed during the pandemic.

How do you use TV as a cultural diplomacy tool?

The best TV comes from a creator who has a passion for telling their story. When a show comes from a personal and authentic place, we often find that there are so many others around the world who identify and relate. TV creates connections when you are true and authentic to the vision of the creator; the more specific it is, the more universal it feels. Cultural diplomacy happens naturally through authentic storytelling – you build empathy, more understanding and more affinity for another culture while being transported into their story.