Multiracial trio, two women and one manThe Diversity Panel has received a lot of attention post-VOICE 2010 and rightly so.

Big Llou Johnson was such a gracious host and the conversations during and after the panel were out of this world.
In today’s Vox Daily, I’ll be sharing what I took from the panel and hope that the exploration of this topic and discussions therein will be illuminating, encouraging and motivational.

Diversity Affects Us All

In spite of being a late addition to the conference slate, the Diversity Panel was one of the best, brutally honest and most thought-provoking experiences delivered at VOICE 2010. Although the primary focus was on how race affects voice over talent, it was clear that diversity affects us all regardless of color. I’ll talk a little bit more about this in a bit.
Diversity panelists included Dave Fennoy (voice of, Vanessa Lanier (Grossman & Jack Talent Agency), John Garry (ABC network voice), Zurek (BET voice) and Saro Solís (English and Spanish Trailer / Promo VO).

Topics Explored Included:

  • Where is the work for minorities?
  • Marketing unique voices
  • Typecasting
  • Agents getting to know the real YOU for who you are

Also, why don’t you hear more:

  • Women doing promo?
  • Minorities doing promo?
  • Black people?

Insight from John Garry

John Garry is one of the most successful movie trailer and promo voices working today. Though you may not recognize his name, you likely know his voice and his work. Aside from being the network voice of ABC and exceptionally talented, he is insightful and sees working in voice over in a completely different light that takes courage and stamina to accomplish.
When asked about how to work through race issues on a job or audition, John shared, “Just be you and forget about the color of your skin. If you don’t pay attention to race it isn’t an issue.”

Watching John talk, you knew that he was extremely dedicated to his craft and that his desire to stay on top motivated him to exude that confidence and succeed, thereby freeing him from racial barriers that might challenge others in similar situations.
His ambition and pursuit of success reminded me somewhat of how Don LaFontaine observed his role and work in the industry. Similar to Don, John wasn’t about to let anyone else take his job on his watch! Something John stressed is that you’ve got to want it bad enough and be willing to make sacrifices in order to get to where you want to go.

Diversity Affects Us All

When I said that diversity affects us all, it truly affects us all whether you’re voicing or on the other side of the glass. It affects casting directors, agents, producers, engineers, writers, voice talent and others involved in the process.
You might be wondering how it affects people involved in the project.
Consider the following:

  • A client needs to get their vision together and determine who it is that they want to reach and how
  • Writers need to write in the style they hope that the voice over comes across in that will best engage their target market
  • Casting directors need to choose the person they feel best embodies what the end client is looking for when auditioning talent
  • Agents have to pick and choose who they feel would be most appropriate voice acting wise for the job or its specs (hopefully they know their talent well enough to do this!)
  • Directors need to express vocal direction in ways that may be uncomfortable for them or find it difficult to get their point across without sounding racist or offensive
  • Engineers are sometimes called upon for feedback or to give direction
  • Voice artists need to decode direction and receive it in such a way that they do not feel personally attacked
  • Producers need to package the sound for consumption

Some Directors Have Trouble Giving Direction to Minorities

The question of “What do you do if someone asks you to sound more black?” came up.
Variations on that question are asked on a regular basis by directors, including the somewhat odd request that a voice actor sound like a 3rd generation Latino American.
This particular request was made of Saro Soli­s.
In his mind, a 3rd generation Latino American doesn’t have an Hispanic accent, however, the directors thought the read needed to sound more Spanish. What did Saro do? He simply took a few words in the script and made them slightly more “Spanish” sounding. The crew working on the project loved it and ran with the ad.

Voice Actors Are a Product of Their Environment

Zurek, founder of VoiceOver Universe, mentioned during the panel that voice actors are a product of their environment, citing Larry Davis as a prime example of how someone can grow up among people outside of their own culture and over time develop similarities in how they sound or speak.

Going back to what Saro encountered, if a descendant of immigrants lives among people who have neutral American accents, wouldn’t they also be a product of their environment and gradually lose their accent over time through the generations?
While it’s possible that their unique voice print may carry traits relating to their cultural heritage that are indicative of a particular region or area of the world, an accent is unlikely to remain to the same degree.

There are many directors that have difficulty giving direction to people of color because they are unsure of how to properly express their needs from a directing perspective. Some directors don’t know what to say or in the right words.
The advice here is to not take it personally but to see it as a challenge to rise above. Don’t be afraid of asking for clarification, for instance, “What is it that you actually want?”

We Want You To Sound Like…

Many directors call for a “James Earl Jones” or “Morgan Freeman” sound but that isn’t necessarily what they want.
Although the direction communicated to you calls for it, the director doesn’t mean for you to sound like Morgan Freeman or James Earl Jones… if you read between the lines and decode the message, the real direction is to PACE the read out like Morgan Freeman or James Earl Jones would.
Pace your read like whoever they are asking you to deliver like yet maintain your own sound and interpretation.

The Obama Effect on African American Voice Overs

Dave Fennoy made an interesting observation and revealed that since Barack Obama came to power as president of the United States, there has been an increase in the number of black voices being booked to record, particularly for general market voice over work.
Leading up to the election, Big Llou was the voice of the Obama Campaign.
Whether or not US President Obama is the reason for the increase in work requiring African American voice over, it has been noted that things are changing.

Other Issues That Influence Casting

As we have come to understand, there are a lot of factors that go into casting and find the right voice for the job. Sometimes this crosses into the realm of the physical appearance and it isn’t just people of color who are judged but also those who may be older or younger than they sound, people who don’t “look” like their voice, or artists whose height or weight contrasts with their voices.

Finding talent who meet the specs can also be hard to do. Vanessa Lanier said that the hardest voice to pin down is that of the Asian female. Trying to sound like someone who hails from an Asian country or even region within one of those countries is hard.
When I was writing this article, I put out a call to people on our Facebook group to hear of any experiences they have had with diversity or if their physical appearance affected how they were treated on the job.

Brad Venable shared, “I know that I’ve been been passed over for a job because of my headshot, simply because the seeker said that I didn’t ‘look’ like I could do the voice. I mean really? That’s why some of us are doing VO rather than stage or on-camera, is to avoid that very stigma!”

Others identified with Brad including Rupa Krishnan who said, “I do not have my picture on my website for the same reason!”
Rose Lamoureux added, “In one of my marketing teleseminars, the subject was raised as to whether voice talent should post their picture on any of their materials, i.e. website, demo CDs, etc. because of exactly what Brad had mentioned. Crazy!”

Do You Have Anything You’d Like to Share?

If this article was of interest to you and you’d like to share your stories, ideas or feelings you are welcome to comment and join the conversation.
Best wishes,
© Gingerich


  1. If you are a voice actor, then act. I think that a general American dialect should be on the resume of every voice actor in the US. That is table stakes. I think you should have a few regional dialects as well.
    Ethnic dialects are challenging but fair game for any voice actor than can do them authentically. Mocking or degrading tone should be off-limits. And if a caricature voice is needed, we should stretch and give that one, too. The context will tell you how far to go.
    We all want as many roles as we can get. We also know our limits for what work or sound we will record. We have to also say no to requests that we find offensive. The cost to your dignity can not be matched by a payment of any amount.
    The King dream can be re-purposed for voice over: it is character not color that counts.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here