LatinExcellence: why the TV industry needs more voices like Claudia Leone

Lyon grew up in New York, navigating her childhood in a family with roots in Guatemala, Trinidad and Tobago and South Asia. His love for TV and film grew over the years to such an extent that he found a way to get a job as an intern and assistant even without connections.

While her future in the industry was still unclear, Lyon took a leap of faith and traveled to Los Angeles to take a temporary job as a casting assistant in a film.

“I don’t think any of us thought I was going to be here,” Lyon said of himself and his family.

But leaving was never an option for him, Lyon said.

“Being the first generation, I think at times you feel a sense of responsibility for doing what you’re doing, not just for yourself but for the people who will come after you,” she said. “I always felt like I had to make the most of every opportunity and stay put.”

Over the past two decades, Leon has become a respected voice in the industry and oversees the casting and talent departments at WB Network, ABC Entertainment and now CBS Entertainment.

As a network executive, Lyon works closely with casting directors to ensure that producers, studios and networks share a strong vision for each project.

While much still remains to be done to improve Latinx representation in the industry, Lyon said it has seen some recent progress. From the heightened awareness that Latinos are more subtle and not a monolith to more opportunities to cast Latinos in roles that are not specifically written with the Latinx person in mind.

Lyon knows she is in a position to bring the voice of a Latina with her diverse cultural background into the judgment room. It is a responsibility that she does not take lightly.

“We come from different cultures and different parts of the world. Some of us are from the first generation, some of us are from the second generation,” Leon said. “I feel like I can speak to those things through my work in casting.”


Name: Claudia Leon Ly

work: Vice President of Talent and Casting at CBS Entertainment

Projects you have worked on: The upcoming CBS original film “A Christmas Proposal,” the series “Claris,” “The Equalizer,” as well as ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Scandal,” and “Black-ish.”

Years in Entertainment: More than 20.

Master: “I had a lot of mentors along the way. One person that comes to mind is a casting director named Phyllis Huffman. I was an intern and assistant to her. She was really the person who helped guide and support me. I transitioned from working in New York to moving to LA and finding my career path. She was the casting director for most of Clint Eastwood’s films during her career.”

Latino…De Donde?: “My mother is from Guatemala, my father is from Trinidad and Tobago. I am multicultural and multi-ethnic. I am Latina and also of South Asian descent. I am also from Brooklyn, New York.”

Trope I will disappear from TV forever: “I want Latinos to be seen on television as more than one thing, more than one story to be told. There are so many cultures within our community that I want to represent, and Latinos and Latinas who look different. I don’t want to see just one representation of Latinos in a story, I really want to see a fuller, more comprehensive representation.”

Latinx actor/actress I think will be a huge star one day: “It’s hard to choose one person. There are so many. But if we’re talking about a specific person, we’ve cast Jessica Camacho in the first Christmas movie that we’re doing for CBS. She’s on our show. Was on “All Rise. She’s really special and a rising star for TV and film. She’s really fabulous.”

Latinx shows I wish everyone was watching/watched: “I wish more people would watch ‘One Day at a Time.’ I thought that show had everything. It had excellent writing, excellent cast. I’m really a fan of Gloria Calderon Kellett’s work and she not only brings those stories to the screen But she does it behind the scenes as well. I just thought the show was fantastic and hilarious.”

A highly used line to be executed when passing on Latinos for a project: “I love to be challenged when all I hear is ‘We ain’t got no one’ or ‘There was no one there.’ I hear it less these days because I think when someone expresses it, they know the reaction is going to be ‘How far did you see? Where did you see? We’ll introduce you to some more talent.

What I think all industry professionals can do to help increase the representation of Latinx on television is:

“I think there are some things. First, tell the story of what isn’t going to be told and tell those stories. Mentor, invest in talent and raise a voice. I think if you take some of that and do that every day that could lead to a lot of opportunities and projects that we haven’t seen before.”


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