Calls for racial justice in 2020 have echoed through the entertainment industry and induced a pop culture reckoning around the whitewashing of characters.
Over the summer, numerous white voice actors resigned their cartoon roles so they could be recast with actors whose identities more closely aligned with those of the characters—at a time when just 3% of animated film roles were led by women of color.
And the success of the Black-owned studio Lion Forge Animation has shown that audiences want to see representation as well as authentically told stories.
It is crucial to feature voice actors of color in order to tell authentic stories.
To be persuaded that authenticity is the watchword, marketers need only look to their own central aim of persuasion.
According to a 2021 FleishmanHillard study, 64% of consumers believe that credible companies should talk about their behavior and impact on society and the environment rather than just the benefits they offer.
When marketing is authentic and credible, audiences do not have to work as hard to suspend disbelief, combat their engrained mental images, and absorb the brand’s message.
But relatively few companies are talking about today’s important issues—climate change, racial equity—and meeting consumers’ expectations, which is resulting in an “authenticity gap.”
Examining How Brands Can Improve Authenticity by Amplifying Voice Actors of Color
The good news?
Some organizations are making progress.
In July 2020, Verizon pledged to upskill 500,000 workers from minority demographics by 2030.
The same year, CBS announced that at least 50% of its reality show casts would be people of color moving forward.
More companies are reevaluating and committing to their diversity, equity, and inclusion goals while pledging to invest in more equitable workplaces.
However, it will take more than promises and acknowledgment to make meaningful progress regarding authenticity. What brands need to do is change “the way work gets done.”
My company has recognized this as we have helped marketers connect with appropriate voice actors for their projects.
To promote authenticity, we have employed a set of guidelines that eschews not only hate speech and racism but also sexually explicit and violent content.
Our goal is to remain authentic to our company’s “E for everyone” values while producing content that uplifts the voices of both brands and actors.
Where voice acting is concerned, authenticity takes root in talent casting.
Hiring voice actors who identify with their roles’ ethnicities, backgrounds, or beliefs is always best; casting someone who can merely mimic a voice only risks projecting stereotypes.
Actor-character alignment yields the best performances because it is not an act for the actors.
All types of voice over media have suffered from a lack of diversity: commercials, TV shows, movies, video games, anime, and more.
But because audiences cannot see the speakers, this issue has gone ignored for a long time.
Now that voice actors and producers are addressing miscasts, brands have a chance to recognize their biases and invest in authenticity by amplifying voice actors of color.
Here’s how brands should approach casting for more authentic voice work.
Create Detailed Character Sketches
A script should be something the actor is proud to voice because it feels culturally authentic to them, just as a brand wants to feel proud of its choice of representative.
The more detailed a script’s artistic direction, character reference material, and diction notes, the clearer the voice talent’s view of the character and the likelier an actor will truly relate.
The goal is to create an appropriate character sketch of and for the actor.
If your talent is voicing a character, provide details about that character’s personality and a visual reference.
Providing character reference material is crucial to ensure the specificity of the character while avoiding stereotypes.
Just saying you “want a Johnny Depp type” of actor leaves a wide gulf: Captain Jack Sparrow or Edward Scissorhands?
Give nuanced artistic direction that allows for an artistic rendition of a character rather than an over-the-top caricature or stereotype.
With the script copy, denote the intended emphasis on syllables, phrases, or intonations.
Try including it in comments—or you might mark the script like a music teacher would annotate sheet music.
Phonetically write out any uncommon words or jargon, or attach an audio sample of yourself articulating the words to get the right pronunciations.
Use this once-over to check for offensive or shallow stereotype-based word choices.
Implement an Unbiased Review System
Once you know what the characters look and sound like, examine your job postings for voice talent.
What language are you using? Does it skew masculine or feminine? Are you accurately describing the demographic you hope to represent?
Tools such as Textio use machine learning and algorithms to help you identify words that might limit your candidate pool.
Just as human resources departments evaluate the hiring process for employees, you must take a similar approach when looking for voice talent.
When you have a pool of possible talent, use an unbiased review system.
Blind auditions are a common way to overcome the bias hurdles that some performers try to dodge with “stage names” and other measures: the Boston Symphony Orchestra famously instituted blind auditions and more than tripled its hiring of women musicians during the next 20 years.
That said, the travel expenses associated with those auditions were far from an equalizer.
Now, the internet allows for new methods of low-barrier talent auditions without names and headshots attached.
On our platform, brands post jobs that our algorithms match to the best talent.
We have discovered that brands should send out messages in the same tone of voice as the audiences they are trying to reach—and that those audiences want to hear from people who sound like them.
Authenticity erodes when voice actors use faux Jamaican accents or fraudulent Irish brogues; instead, brands can hire talent from the correct geographic region who speak in the regional accent or dialect.
Once you have narrowed down your talent through unbiased review, get to know the finalists to understand who they are and whether they represent your brand or the character.
When brands tell diverse stories and seek authentic actors to convey them, the amplification of lesser-heard voices will follow.