The Brown Geek team at Avaaz recently held our inaugural Chai and Cocktails panel and sat down with voice talents Suzie McGrath, America Young and Christopher Sean to talk about diversity in the voiceover industry.
- Suzie McGrath currently plays Tam Ryvora in Star Wars Resistance and is also known for her role of Kimberly in Kobe Bryant’s hit children’s podcast, The Punies.
- America Young, whose extensive voiceover work includes the Monster High series and as Barbie on various Barbie TV series, is the voice of Batgirl in the new Gotham Knights video game set to be released in 2021.
- Christopher Sean is known for his roles on Days of Our Lives, Hawaii Five-0 and Star Wars Resistance, and is also featured in the upcoming Gotham Knights.
In a lively conversation, our panelists shared personal anecdotes about working in the entertainment industry, their approaches to voice acting and how their identities play into that, the changes we are now seeing in diversity and representation, and the ones still yet to come.
In case you weren’t able to catch the panel, here are a few highlights from it.
The Present State of Voice Acting
The animation and voiceover sectors of the industry have recently undergone a huge shakeup as talents, white actors, in particular, have begun stepping down from their roles playing characters of color.
Over the summer, the likes of Jenny Slate, Kristen Bell, Alison Brie, and Mike Henry have all resigned and publicly expressed their regret for playing POC in their respective animated shows. Showrunners have also acknowledged their mistake in casting white actors for roles that should have gone to POC. The change is long overdue but it’s a step in the right direction that is gradually having a ripple effect across the board.
Christopher Sean spoke of how he intentionally holds himself accountable as an actor when considering roles.
“I will not take a role that is not Asian,” he said. ”If I’m not the right Asian, sometimes I step away from the role. If it’s very specific to Japanese, even then I can’t get the role cause I’m not Japanese enough. So it’s a very small area of which I feel comfortable in taking on a role.”
America Young noted one major area that can be readily changed is in the casting process.
“There’s usually the one or two characters that’s token, that’s the token representative or there’s the one person from each race that’s representing that race and that’s it in the entire show. And you’ll have an entire cast and world, that are usually white characters, and then you’ll have your tokens. And so at the very least, let’s cast those tokens with the people that they represent. At the very least, let’s give those people jobs so they can have a sustainable acting career.”
But change still needs to happen on a wider scale. Suzie McGrath pointed out the fact that it is a widespread systemic issue with many layers that will call for even bigger shakeups.
“In an ideal world, we would all be these artistic chameleons that can play anything … and artistically it would be acceptable, but unfortunately, that’s not where we are. …
These systemic biases, it’s so ingrained into our society and ingrained into the industry … and starting with letting those few characters be represented accurately, and then from there we can build and pull back layers and right the wrongs. And it’s gonna take drastic action — people are gonna have to give up their jobs, people are gonna have to restructure, people are gonna have to figure out how to cast something that represents everybody that makes space for non-white people.”
Pushing for More Change
As this year has taught us, change can’t happen unless we fight for it. As old systems crumble and new ones take their place, it’s up to us to decide what they look like and consider how they impact us all positively.
“We have to be here pushing back, fighting for what’s right, fighting for ourselves, fighting for our lives, fighting for each other,” said Suzie.
America also spoke about how actors themselves can help to be part of the change, sharing how she was able to help her fellow artists and advocate for diversity in casting when she asked about the progress made in casting roles for a show and was able to provide producers with a list of other actors of color to help them.
What she’s found is that producers are increasingly eager to have those lists so it helps to just ask if a character necessarily needs to be white.
“You do have to ask the question, and it is a little scary sometimes when you’re in a precarious place yourself as just being an actor and not necessarily being a place of power and asking that question. But almost always there’s been a positive response and lately, more than ever, I’ve had people reaching out to me now consistently asking me.”
It also helps, of course, to have allies in powerful places who share our vision and can influence the way things look in the future, as Christopher reminded us. “It always comes down to having allies, having people that are willing to see the real America.”
Thankfully, hope seems to be on the horizon.
“I think people are really looking into how much they can change and how they can make the world a better place,” said America. “Maybe I’m just relentlessly optimistic but I do think that people genuinely do want to make better content and more diverse content.”
The Future Seems Bright
So has representation in entertainment improved? Our panelists certainly believe they have and will continue to get even better with the right effort.
“Just look at the things that were watching. … Very slowly but steadily and surely I am seeing more characters like myself. … It’s happening. I mean, can it happen quicker? Yes. Would I like to see more? Absolutely. Do I want to see better quality in certain aspects? Yes, would love to. But it’s definitely better than when I was a kid and there was nothing to see.”
America also agrees, having witnessed some of those improvements firsthand herself.
“I definitely think it’s increasing and more and more people are working and conscious of it and aware of it Could it happen faster? Sure, but the fact that it’s happening and then the momentum is building is phenomenal.”
As for Christopher, he believes that having conversations like this are part of the change itself.
“The people on this panel are a testament to the change. … The fact that we are here now talking about change in a public environment … we’re bolstering the change, that atmosphere of change, the positive change that is happening in entertainment. We’re here and were very excited about that. So the fact again, that the three of us are talking about it, we’re affirmations to that statement: Yes change is happening and yes change is here.”
You’re a Star and Don’t You Forget It
There’s obviously still a long way to go but the underlying truth remains that we all deserve to have our stories told and our moment in the sun.
Christopher sums it up best:
“In the end, it really is important for us to know that we are ok as ourselves. We are unique, you are all unique and you are all special, therefore you all deserve an opportunity to shine.”
Keep shining, Brown Geeks!
To hear more from our panelists, you can watch the full Chai and Cocktails panel here!