The Black Lives Matter movement has made me realize that I really need to take a step back and listen. I am honored today to share the stories of seven Black Voice Actors on this week’s episode. Thank you to Damon Alums, Annette Coward, Dane Reid, Kimberly Bonny, Josh Evans, Zakiya Walden, and Mark Neely for sharing their stories with our listeners. I am grateful. Please know I’m not done listening. I am committed to doing what I can and offering a platform for sharing. If you’d like to share your story on a future episode, feel free to reach out to me at email@example.com. And If you have gotten to the end of this episode, I invite you to listen as well. Strike a conversation, ask a question, be open. Lots of love going out to all the bosses out there – Have a great week and I’ll see you next wee
Quick Concepts from Today’s Episode:
“In VO, you want to have a fair opportunity, and you want to work. I want the people at agencies to look like me, so I get a chance. Just give us the opportunity to work.” – Mark Neely
“I had to decide for myself: what do you sound like? You sound good enough to embark on a VO journey. That’s what you sound like. I plan to make change.” – Zakiya Walden
“I have never, in my entire life, seen a police officer and felt safe. Because I knew, that to be a black man in America, is to constantly be a suspect, even without cause.” – Joshua Evans
“When I started my professional VO journey, I was scared to put my image next to my voice. I thought my voice might be employable, but Kimberly Bonny as a person might not.” – Kimberly Bonny
“There’s a story behind who I am and the things I’ve gone through. There’s a backstory to every read that I have. I bring my stories, my accomplishments, my pain – to what I do in voiceover.” – Dane Reid
“All I can do is be me, and hope for the best. Anything else would be less than who I am. Hopefully there will be a shift in the dynamic soon. It’s been an interesting ride.” – Annette Coward
“The VO industry is a very different world. We’re all at different levels of awareness. I hope my words reach you with an intent to start a dialogue, because without that dialogue, we’ll keep repeating the mistakes of the past, and get nowhere.” – Damon Alums
Referenced in this Episode
Direct links to things we brought up ++
Recorded on ipDTL
Audio Engineering by Noah Scheffey
>> It’s time to take your business to the next level, the BOSS level! These are the premier business owner strategies and successes being utilized by the industry’s top talent today. Rock your business like a BOSS, a VO BOSS. Now let’s welcome your host Anne Ganguzza.
Adrian: Hey everyone, welcome to the VO BOSS podcast. I’m your host, Anne Ganguzza, and today I have a very special episode on deck for you guys. The Black Lives Matter movement has made me realize that I really need to take a step back and just listen, really listen. I’m honored today to share the stories of seven Black voice actors on this week’s episode. Let’s have a listen.
Damon: Welcome to the tip of the iceberg. First I would like to state that my experience is only my experience. And that what moves me may pass unnoticed or disregarded by another African-American voiceover talent. What I say comes through my own filter as a 40-plus male heterosexual with an interest in opening dialogue on race and ethnicity in the industry that’s late but necessary. I begin with a statement that contradicts my previous assertion with a cultural truism that very likely extends to every African-American child ever born. Whether delivered through clenched teeth in anger, or calmly with an objective eyebrow raised, the message is as follows. “Beloved child, whether you know it or not, you are a Black child in America, and to make this way in this world, you’re going to have to be 10 times better than the little white boys and girls in line just to get your turn.” My mother hit me with the news with a clenched jaw and a stiff upper lip, true to her nature and our circumstances at the time. My world of candy and pastel colors was brought into horrible stark relief. I took this to mean that the degree of difficulty in my life would be higher than if I were white. Countless studies, reports, statistics and current headlines bear this out. We all burn in the crucible of life. That’s a fact. But it seems Blackness means burning a little hotter and sadly more briefly.
This is a fact I’ve come to accept. I accepted it with frightened, restrained tears as a child, with grim resolve today. Part of the great difference I’ve noticed Black VO talent are faced with is the monumental, fundamental decision whether or not to show our face on our website, for concern of losing out on potential projects. “We’re not an urban project, and Black voices only have urban appeal to urban markets, so we’ll have to pass on considering those voices,” is the likely argument. This goes back to my original point that Blackness is not a monolith and that personally I grew up in a house where vernacular was a delightful second gear, and that proper diction and enunciation were demanded. The industry seems rife with websites chock full of glamour shots, cheesy selfies and “bed hair, don’t care” candids. Having a “look at me being me. Aren’t I awesome?” is what’s expected. But if doing that can get you hit with that awkward, ugly reaction of “oh, I knew you were you, but just not you you. Oh, don’t mind me. I’ll just be going,” with the unwritten subtext, “and taking my opportunity with me,” is a hurtful prospect.
To prevent or reduce that, some African-American voice actors simply opt to omit that part of their portfolio, and if you hear a neutral American accent, fine, don’t book that job. If you hear the slight nuance that perks the radar of those with the ears to catch it, fine, don’t book that too. I’ve made the choice to proudly display my picture on my website. If you choose to stay away on sight alone, I’ll make my way without you. I have the blessings of the motherland in every inch of me, and I choose not to deny it. I am who I am. I’m 10 times more focused and prepared than the next guy, just like I was instructed, and I refuse to hide. Let the chips fall where they may.
True to its reputation, the voiceover community is a welcoming place full of made men and made women reaching back to the newbies with pointers and guidance, and peers cheering each other on with steel sharpening steel in this long entrepreneurial journey. That said, the voiceover industry is an extension of America, which means having to navigate the minefield of ethnicity in the culture. I want no questions about who I am or what I stand for. I plant my feet, stand strong, and speak with confidence, poise, and polish. To be an exemplar is my daily goal. Part of putting one’s best foot forward is proper branding. In order to join the double Dutch of the industry, I have to take into consideration whether or not stating my ethnicity would be hidden or out front, and how to state it. In the end, urban legend voiceover made me very proud. The legends of the present day like superhero, cyber grifters and super spies, and the icons of yesterday, ancient kings, corrupt demons, and stalwart knights live equally in me. I also have the city boy’s urbanized refined taste and experience. Upholstered leather interiors, well-smoked meats, pulsing beats, beautiful sneakers, and single-aged malt whiskey, one ice cube please… are ways that my cosmopolitan side shows itself.
However, in that pride is a concession that I’m using the vocabulary and encoded language of a nation that loves Black culture but not Black people in order to introduce myself. The VO industry is a very different world, full of learning and living out loud individuals of all stripes. We’re all at different levels of awareness, just as there are individuals enjoying different levels of success and recognition in the industry. I have a wealth of things to say, and I hope my words reach you with intent to start a dialogue, because without that dialogue, we’ll keep repeating the mistakes of the past and get nowhere. I put out the first two differences in my journey that came to mind. There are others too, too many to name. But I’ll conclude to save what energy we have left to engage in further dialogue as friends and colleagues in understanding.
Annette: This is Annette Gomez and this is my VO story. I really did not get serious about VO until 2012. I was in and out of a newsroom and just had had enough. I was tired, exhausted. I knew broadcasting would help me tremendously, whether it was with inflection or storytelling. I remember years earlier seeing at the back of “Essence” magazine a section called cool jobs. For the life of me, I can’t remember the voice actor’s name, but I was hooked. The first class I took in Atlanta, the instructor, happened to be White, said, you can always tell a Black voice from a White voice. I laughed internally because I was always surprised when I would show up to do a story, and the interviewee would say, my God, you’re Black. I would say yeah. And you’re White. Because I guess they could not tell who or what I was, or what I looked like because we would talk on the phone, even though I could never understand it, because you saw me on air.
VO has been a little like that for me. After completing my first demo, I immediately went to my first pay-to-play site. I landed a gig two months later after the demo was complete. It was easy because it called for a named character, and that’s what, that’s my background. So that was easy, but I also noticed if I auditioned for the urban clients, I was not Black enough, and what exactly does that mean? I’m always being told, “but you’re really not Black, Annette, you’re not like them.” What does that mean? Recently a large radio conglomerate was looking to add to their roster, and I knew from the minute I submitted I was not going to be added. All of my peers were sending congrats across the VO group that night, and I got a nice, fat rejection letter. Either I’m too White or not urban enough, but it’s tough. I’ll never forget walking into this agency this past spring and just being stared at because it was as if I was from outer space. I had to tell them three different times, “I’m Annette Gomez, and I’m here to read for the breast cancer piece.” One lady literally said, “oh, I didn’t realize that was you.” Lady, I told you three times I’m here to read the breast cancer piece. And to this day, I can’t get that client to call me back. “I’m just looking for the final playback.” I don’t know what the deal is. So that’s my journey. All I can do is be me and hope for the best. Anything else would be less than who I am. So hopefully there will be a shift in the dynamic soon. It’s been an interesting ride.
Dane: Hey, this is Dane Reid, the voiceover guy. Thanks to Anne for providing this platform and for bein