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 being such an outspoken voice for just doing the right thing. You know in my 40-plus years, I’ve never had a morning when I woke up and said that I’m a black man, that I’m Black, I’m African-American, I’m Caribbean, I’ve never woke up and thought that. But when I interact with the outside world, the outside world reminds me in subtle ways and some very overt ways. The subtle ways, if you’re not used to racism, might not strike you immediately. But when you’ve experienced it your entire life, then you recognize it. Growing up to the parents that I grew up to, there was never the idea that I wasn’t good enough, that I could not do anything that I wanted to do, that I wouldn’t be successful in life. There was never the idea that things, regardless of what they are, would be allowed to hold me back. But there was always the understanding that there would be these things, that you have no control over, that would try to hold you back.
I know a lot of people in this voiceover industry, and it’s been a really awesome ride. Many of them have let me in their homes, and we’ve broken bread. Black, they’re White, Latino, they’re everything. And I’ve had a really good time. But what people don’t know is my story. People don’t know that I’ve had to endure in my regular life an extreme amount of racism, and some of it, a lot of it has been very nasty. I’ve been chased in my car by a group of teenagers when I was in college. They were in a car, hanging out of the car, yelling the N-word at me, and I’m just driving, trying to get away from this. This is when I first moved to Atlanta. I’m a victim or a survivor of police brutality. In New York City, the police used to just roll up on people and beat them up. They’d drive down the wrong side of the street, up on the curve, just jump out. They’d set people up, plant drugs and weapons on them. And I’ve been choked by police while I was just walking home from my girlfriend’s house, harassed multiple times, going to and from school. Just a few years ago I was a victim of one of those Karen calls. The lady threatened me and called the police on me, then called her son and said that her son was going to come and beat me up, after she hit my car, got out of the car and started banging on my car with her fist. I jumped out and was like there’s no damage, no problem. But she was insistent and then said, I’m going to call the police on you.
Even in the voiceover industry, I was at a conference several years ago when a guy who I didn’t know, who I know who he is now, you know, I heard him joking around with some ladies, and he was making a Jamaican accent, and I’m of Jamaican descent. And so just to make conversation, and joke with him, I didn’t know him, it was just kind of like an icebreaker, I said “hey man, you know, don’t quit your day job.” And he says “what?” I said “you know, the Jamaican accent or whatever. You know. I was just overhearing you do that Jamaican accent. Don’t quit your day job.” And he gets really mad, and he says “oh, you’re from Jamaica? Oh well, why don’t you go back there? I don’t tell you not to do an American accent. Go back to Jamaica.” Now that’s just in the voiceover industry. You know, for me that was extremely insulting. You know, for him it was probably like birdwatching, waking up in the morning, a walk in the park for him. You know, it’s no big deal. But to me coming from someone in my own community, from the voiceover community, that was extremely hurtful.
I’ve been on camera doing my blogs for years. I’ve been, like I said, in people’s homes. I come to these conferences with friends. Honestly friendly with a lot of people. I’m not the kind of guy who complains about things. But there’s a story behind who I am and the things that I go through, and how it affects even my voice acting itself, there is a back story to every read that I have. I bring my experience. I bring my accomplishments. I bring my pain to what I do in voiceover. Recently I was on a popular casting site. They were casting for young male African-American voiceovers, and the project description was “client is looking for some training narration from you, African-Americans with inner-city type accents, without proper grammar.” Yeah, imagine that. That’s not the kind of thing that would fly if we were talking about any other community, but the African-American community can be continuously disrespected in that kind of way. And somebody auditioned for it, even at the low rate it was offering.
Listen, racism is a disease, but it’s not the disease of the people who are the victims of the racism. It’s the disease of the racist. The problem is that the people who feel the symptoms, the people who feel the night sweats, the nervousness, the jittery, the fear, are not the people who suffer from the racism. They are the people who are the subject of the racism. So I commend people like Anne who have stood up and made it clear that racism has no place in voiceover. I commend people like Terry Daniel who said “yo, if you don’t like me saying the bare minimum that Black lives matter, then find another group.” I commend people who are willing to take a risk to make it clear to others that this is not acceptable. It’s never acceptable to make jokes about people, because people experience real things. Had it not been to the natural feeling of “I’m able to do whatever,” then racism might have broken me to the point where people who do get to know me would not want to know me because they think, oh, you have a bad attitude, or you know, you’re not happy-go-lucky like everyone else. And it’s important to know that I am who I am partially because of but also in spite of. So anyway, so that’s my two cents. I know it ran over a little bit more than three minutes, but it’s just so much to this conversation that I’d love to add. It’s a thing also too where I know a lot of people have questions. People are genuinely concerned because they’re seeing this in the news. This didn’t just start. What started was the filming of it. And so I’m the kind of person that if you have any questions about racism, true racism, I have enough experience, and I’m open to tell you the truth. Anyway, I’m Dane Reid, and I’ll talk to you guys later. Thank you, Anne.
Kimberly: My name is Kimberly Bonny. I’m a voiceover artist from Orlando, Florida. As you hear my voice, I want you to imagine what I look like. If you see my image after you listen to me, you might be surprised. When I started my professional voiceover journey, I was initially scared to put my image next to my voice. I’ve encountered situations before where I was passed over jobs or given unfair expectations because my face did not seem to represent my work. I felt helpless, possibly succumbing to the reality that my voice might be employable, but Kimberly Bonnie as a person might not. As I engaged more with the voiceover community, I was told about other artists who profited by using images that were not truly them, including manipulating their voices to sound more African-American, to appeal to more companies. I simply cannot imagine White voiceover artists feeling the anxiety and confusion I feel over such a situation. I love the voiceover industry, and the community and friends that I’ve made within it, but we need to take a good look at ourselves and be honest. I ask honestly as a Black woman, can I belong and give the industry the diverse representation it truly needs? And how is that possible when the seat is filled with fake caricatures of people of color being played by White peers? Is this industry truly just about the voice and not the talented human being it comes from? I just want to be able to display myself proudly with my work. That shouldn’t be a difficult request. Thank you for your time.
Joshua: My name is Joshua Evans. I’m a Black man from Southern California. I’m 30 years old. I’m also a voiceover artist. When I was nine years old, my family and I moved from Altadena to Pasadena, not very far. My whole family is Black. Both of my parents are Black. My dad is from the East Coast, mom is from the West Coast, and all three of my siblings are Black. So one day, we were outside playing. I remember we were on the sidewalk outside of the house. It was my mother and I. We were playing. She was watching my sisters, and she called me over to her. She wanted to tell me something. Now mind you, the neighborhood itself was relatively safe. We rode all around the neighborhood. We rode down to the grocery store. I frequently rode to my best friend’s house who lived several blocks away; safe neighborhood. There was a drug dealer on the street, but harmless. He was just, you know, he was selling his drugs. So what she wanted to talk to me about was not the drug dealer, was not, you know, stranger danger, was not even really an over emphasis on being aware of your surroundings. I knew all of those things already. This was if a policeman pulls you over on your scooter, “yes sir, no sir. Yes ma’am, no ma’am.” You answer all questions, you don’t move, you look them in the eyes, and be harmless. I was nine. When I was 15, and my parents started teaching me how to drive, my mother brought it back up. If you ever get pulled over by police, “yes sir, no sir. Yes ma’am, no ma’am.” Don’t make any sudden movements, because they’ll shoot. I’ve known that consciously since 15. Don’t do anything unless they tell you to do it because otherwise they’ll shoot. 15. So at nine I’m told “yes sir, no sir,” completely comply with the police, because I might not come home if I don’t. 15, I’m told in the case of driving, completely comply with the police because otherwise I could get shot. The overall lesson I was told to carry was always appear nonthreatening. Be peaceful, smile, be peaceable, don’t be too rowdy, because if I ever asserted myself, I could die.
Currently at 30 years old, I work in the educational world. So I have two sixth-graders, one Black boy, one Mexican girl. And I had the cop talk when I was nine. Come to find out when they were doing their podcast, they had the cop talk at eight years old, same exact thing. So I’m, what, almost 20 years removed from these kids. It’s the same exact conversation that they’re being told. “Yes sir, no sir. Yes ma’am, no ma’am.” And with the fact that cops are killing children at eight years old, they had to be told that if you don’t do this, you can die. And there are many more stories like that. Stories from my friends and my family. I have never in my entire life seen a police officer and felt safe. Even if they were helping me out, I never felt safe, because I knew that to be a Black man in America is to constantly be a suspect, even without cause.
Zakiya: Hi, my name is Zakiya, and I’m just starting in on the voiceover industry. I’m excited, and I’m green, I’m very passionate, and I can’t wait to really get the ball rolling. When I was in college, the first college I went to was Lincoln University, which is an HBCU, historically Black college or university. And one of the many courses that you have to take as a freshman is a class called oral communications. In that class there is a section, code switching. And what code switching is, is the University – well, I don’t know if other universities – I think all freshmen probably do have to take some form of oral communications, but I don’t think that other universities are offering the section of it for code switching. I think that this was or is the HBCUs’ attempt at making sure, as Black people, we’re prepared for every part of life, and that includes corporate America. As much as they can do because you know, when life hits you, life just hits you. So code switching is, as we know, we have to be multifaceted in the world, especially if you want to achieve a certain level of success or you know, whatever success looks for you. So I believe that code switching was inputted into curriculum to prepare us for corporate America. It’s pretty much you know leaving the streets at the door or how you interact and communicate with your friends and family, and making sure that you’re presented accordingly, making sure that you’re presented to the folks in the boardroom with the way that you’re speaking, the way you’re carrying yourself, and yeah. I know that other cultures, other people of color besides Black people, have the same kind of encounter where you have to make sure you’re putting it on so that you can make the impression that you need to make, but I think it’s different for Black people. We just have to be – you know it’s 10 times everything for us. Not that I didn’t think that the course was useful, especially at you know, whatever, 17, 18.
But in my journey, in voiceover, one of my bumps in the road – and I’m just starting out. It’s only been a little over a year – somebody that I was working with, or I was supposed to work with, they advised some accent reduction for me. You know, I don’t really know – I always say this. I don’t know how I sound to the world. In front of my peers, other African-Americans, other Black people, other people of color, you know, not everybody – of course not everybody. Not people who know me know me, but I have, you know, I’ve received the whole, “you sound like a white girl. You talk like a white girl. Why are you speaking with a white girl?” Definitely encountered that, you know, and then I get with some of the jobs I’ve had, I get in front of the White people, the White folks are like rolling their necks and swinging their fingers, and when they’re repeating what I’ve said, you know in just casual conversation, they’re putting this extreme blackcent on it. So all in all, I realize I have no idea how I sound to the people outside. I have no idea how I sound to others, because I get conflicting messages. I get both. I get, you sound this way to us, and you sound this way to us. I had to decide for myself. What do you sound like? You sound good enough to embark on voiceover. That’s what you sound like. That’s what I’m rolling with. I’m rolling with the punches. I’m doing what I have to, and I plan to make change.
Mark: Good morning, Anne. This is Mark Neely. Thank you, thank you, thank you for the question and the space you’ve taken to hear people. That’s what it is. Black media lives matter. In this time, it’s great that voiceover is actually one of the best in the last few months has been an active part of what entertainment is. I’ve been doing the COVID-19 ads and the rest, but let me address your question in this way and your concern in this way. The first reaction I have when I hear someone ask what to do is feeling like you know what to do. You really do. You’ve heard my stories. You’ve heard other stories about discrimination. I could go on longer than three minutes, absolutely. I mean, I have ample examples of even what happened yesterday. That’s not where I’m going to go. But in this world of voiceover, most actors don’t know what happens after you send in an audition. You just wait to hear. Well, what’s going on behind the scenes? And this I do know.
Part of my marketing is not just to send an audition, but I send out postcards to agencies, copywriters, production studios, everywhere. And when you go and look on these websites to find their address and who runs these companies, almost 99.9%, if you just click on who’s there, you will see an all White staff. Almost every time. And I know most of these agencies are smaller than most, and they’ve been set up from friends, but it’s smart, it’s more than smart for any agency to hire people that look like this world. As a Black person, I’ve got to know what the White market is doing. It’s just everything. And it’s very tiring at least multiple times a year, you hear of some, you hear of a gaffe from some agent, agency making some stupid remark about our culture and trying to buy into something that they have no clue about, or at least it seems so after the ad might come out. If they only had one person, they could go ask the janitor if he’s Black or if they’re Latino, what’s going on, and they would tell them. But they refuse to try to add people because they don’t look like them or feel like they’re not – or they may feel that they’re not comfortable working next to somebody who looks like me. Unless there’s a Black or Latin agency, you just don’t see me. That’s where these ads come from.
And I’ve done more than a few McDonald’s commercials where it sounds like they want the Black people to break dance and come up, “get that quarter pounder now, baby!” You know, it doesn’t have to be that way. For on camera and film I’m with one of the biggest agencies in L.A. and New York. And they had a webinar last week that asked people to show up and just give stories again. Again, this situation has turned into something marketable. So they’ll say they want to listen. And the stories that come out are profound. One of the best stories that came out wasn’t just centered about what to do with the industry, how to look out, but how to look within. Start with your walls first, your four walls first. There are no Black people at my agency in the senior position.
So Anne, look to yourself first. How do you treat people? What is your world about? Do you go in with from even the most subtle joke or racial comment, do you just, are you complicit and listen? Do you go out and seek people who can help you, that don’t look like you? Is it just your world or do you see people that you know that look like you? We have all got to make that effort because Black people are not going away. We’re here to stay, believe it or not. So your first task I would think is just to listen, and to, if it’s uncomfortable, keep listening. And yes, take some stands, and yes, do something that might not be the norm.
I was approached last week from a producer who wanted to market me in the name of Black Lives Matter. And this is a White guy who is just jumping on the train of what he sees other marketers do or other companies do, and I’m still not comfortable – I don’t know how to react to that yet. I’m not comfortable with people just wanting to market my pain and my – what I have to discuss with this world. But yes it’s great to be advertised and talked about that I’m a great voiceover person, but do you want to use my pain to sell yourself? I’m not there yet. So when you ask that question, am I putting you in the same position? No. I know of you. I know what you’re about, but I would just ask is you ask that. It’s not just a momentary thing you’re looking to do. What about six months, what about a year from now, what about six years from now? Are you going back to where you were? Are we all going back to where we were? It doesn’t have to be a jazzy ad to sell it to Black people. We’re just people that pour bleach on things, just like you, just like me. And let’s stop the phrasing that just demeans and talk about us just as people. We’re not animals.
You know again, this wasn’t a place to talk about the way the police have treated me or we see what we all see on TV. It’s just voiceover, you want to have a fair opportunity, and you want to work. I want to see the people at agencies that put together these ads look like me. That’s all, so I can get a chance. I never know. You know, I just had the opportunity to be the brand voice for a Masterclass. That’s something that they’re changing, instead of just celebrities talking about what they do. But at the very last minute, after they told me I was the one, they changed their mind. Who knows what happened? Who knows what happened? I don’t know what happened. It’s a big void. Do I know that the people of the top of Masterclass look like me or at the ad agency that chose me first? Who knows? Just give us the opportunity to work. Blessings to you, keep it up, and let’s move forward, thanks.
Anne: Big thank you to Annette, Damon, Dane, Josh, Kimberly, Mark, and Zakiya for sharing their stories with our listeners. I am grateful. So please know, BOSSes, I’m not done listening. I’m committed to doing what I can and offering a platform for sharing. If you would like to share your story on a future episode, feel free to reach out to me at Anne@voboss.com, and if you listeners have gotten to the end of this episode, I invite you to listen as well. Strike up a conversation, ask a question, be open. Lots of love going out to all you BOSSes out there. You guys have a great week, and I’ll see you next week. Bye!
>> Join us next week for another edition of VO BOSS with your host, Anne Ganguzza, and take your business to the next level. Sign up for our mailing list at voboss.com and receive exclusive content, industry revolutionizing tips and strategies, and new ways to rock your business like a BOSS. Redistribution with permission. Coast-to-coast connectivity via ipDTL.