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With hundreds of original titles released each year, Netflix puts enough people onscreen to populate its own town. In order to service its heavy talent-identification needs — and better track how the company is doing with respect to diversity and inclusion across its massive slate — the streamer has for the first time, The Hollywood Reporter has learned, created an in-house casting department to oversee all casting decisions for its North American productions.
Cesar Rocha, Rich Leist and Brittany Grooms have been named directors of casting for series, nonfiction and film, respectively. Netflix also recently hired Shiondre Austin and Cymbre Sklar to manage casting for animated series and films. The streamer will continue to use external agencies and directors to run casting on the ground for each production, but now there’s a central clearinghouse to unify its sprawling network of casting resources and its talent.
Among the new department’s key functions will be to help troubleshoot searches for specific types that have traditionally been perceived as “hard to find”; to examine how Netflix originals are doing across the board with respect to onscreen representation; and to identify opportunities to keep breakout stars busy with additional Netflix projects.
“We have the opportunity to work on this holistically and look at the casting ecosystem within Netflix,” says Rocha, who began working with the streamer two years ago on its local-language titles and now will oversee series globally. “How are we sharing talent internally? Because we have connections as a global company, [if] we’re casting a U.S. show, how are we tapping into the talent pools of our shows in Italy, France, Africa, India?”
The newly minted department heads say they won’t be mandating any casting decisions, either to their production partners or to the Netflix creative executives assigned to individual projects, but part of their job will be to anticipate and have conversations about representation issues at the beginning of the casting process, instead of well after the fact.
For example, amid growing awareness of Hollywood’s (including Netflix’s) tendency to cast nonwhite roles with light-skinned people of color, an in-house department dedicated to looking out for such issues across its entire slate would ostensibly be able to catch those incidences early.
“A creative executive is overseeing the entire process, so it’s good to have someone with a fresh pair of eyes specifically focused on casting,” says Grooms, who previously served as vice president of casting at Sony. “The colorism conversation is one I’ve had for a lot of my career, and that’s why we’re here: to notice these things and bring them to the forefront of people’s attention.”
Leist, who oversaw casting at All3Media for the past five years, notes, “We don’t mandate anything, but we want to keep track of everything,” which includes identifying and monitoring key talent. He adds, “We like to keep people in the Netflix family, so if we find somebody who’s really broken out, how can we use them in other ways?”
Grooms offers as an example of how the new system can work: “We’ll be talking to each other. Cesar sent an email this morning about someone’s audition. Because we know our series team is excited about this kid, now we’re all excited.”
This story first appeared in the July 21 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
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