Over a few blog posts this year, I wanted to interview and promote some excellent BIPOC actors in the voiceover industry. We’ve discussed everything from the importance of creating space for under-represented artists in the media to how to not use skin color as a costume or character in and of itself. So in honor of Indigenous People’s Day, I am keeping my BIPOC interviews going with this chat with my lovely colleague, Dean Aylesworth, who had some interesting insights to add to the dialogue about respect, authenticity, and inclusivity in our highly competitive medium.
Kim: I think it’s essential for people in our industry to think about voiceover differently. We need to consider who we want to include in our storytelling and why the challenge of opportunity matters.
Dean: It’s not so complex; it’s about inclusivity. When people are casting, it’s the same situation. When people are looking for someone to read or inquire about voice over artists for a role, I think it would be most beneficial to call people who are BIPOC first. Relative to the roles we’re reading for, it might seem like a separatist thought, but the fact is that you’ve turned the status quo upside down. It’s just about the inclusivity.
Kim: Can you tell me a bit more?
Dean: For the most part, whether the roles are Asian, Native, or Black, a lot of them have been played by Caucasian people. In voice over, there are several examples of different genders representing their opposite gender so they can start a dialogue. It’s more about the heart’s content and the opportunity. You don’t even have to cast BIPOC people; just give them a chance and if they don’t stand up to it, then hire whoever does regardless of gender or race.
Kim: That’s very interesting. I cast something for a client earlier this year, and they were looking for an actor to portray someone who had been born in Greece but lived in New York. I put it out on CastVoices and got quite a few auditions, but at least three of the people who applied had Greek names, and I thought it’d be interesting to see who the client picked. In the end, it didn’t go to either of them, but I was still pleased to see people of Greek descent.
Dean: It takes a diverse talent pool – that’s what’s necessary. Storytelling is about the essence of the story, but the storytellers also bring something to it. When we’re talking about culture or personal cultural identity, there’s a heartfeltness in that; a passion that can’t be it can be duplicated. All of us in voice acting know how to emote our voices to whatever’s needed, but when there’s that personal connection thrown in, it’s not something we’re looking for, but it’s pretty remarkable.
Kim: That is something that I just love. It’s the idea of authenticity. Living in Montreal, a lot of times, people in the voice community will say, “Hey, you speak French. Can you do this thing for me in a French Canadian voice” and I need to tell them that I’m not French Canadian – I’m English – I just happen to live in Montreal. I speak French, but they should probably hire a French Canadian. Some voice actors who speak French will still take the jobs, but when I talk to a lot of my French Canadian actor friends about it, they’ll say they don’t know our lived experience; they don’t know our subtle nuances or our stories.
Dean: And they’re usually mispronounced, right?
Kim: Exactly. And in the same vein, as someone who’s part of an Indigenous community, make your conversations with other community actors also reflect that situation? When casting directors hire someone that isn’t Indigenous for an Indigenous role?
Dean: I hear it all the time. And I feel like this is the history of Hollywood. Our storytelling history, specific to my Indigenous culture and bloodline, was usually subject to stereotypical verbiage. So when you hear an articulate Indigenous person, they say: Oh, well, they were an integrated Canadian. You know, a Caucasian. Does that mean I’m an educated Indian? Like, which one is it? But when I bring that up, it becomes about me being aggressive – and that’s not what I want to do. It’s not about the controversy; it’s just about respect. It’s about the dignity of how we speak and articulate language; it’s about recognizing that we’re a diverse and long, long-lived culture.
Kim: Multicultural AND multinational.
Dean: Exactly. With different politics and religions, our shamanism and other tribes with different stories gave various ceremonies. It’s not about exclusivity; it’s about including everything.
Kim: I couldn’t agree more. Especially in 2022.
Dean: And all of the other controversies and things like that, I feel like it’s juicing something up and trying to pump up energy that’s not positive. It seems somewhat manipulative the way some people talk about the inclusivity of voices in our culture.
Kim: And how do you feel that that has affected you as someone of Indigenous heritage?
Dean: You know, I’ve been honored by being able to portray my Indigenous culture in my voiceover acting. I’m Matis, but for the most part, pass for white. Sometimes I’ll do an audition, and if I get it, people think, Oh, it goes to an Italian guy. I don’t have the honor of being a visible minority. My best friend, Nathaniel Arcand, is another voiceover man who’s Métis and Cree but consistently recognized as Indigenous on camera. I’m Métis and Cree as well but mixed with Scottish. It’s more about bringing our culture back to life, honoring our dignity and identity without being a crutch or excuse. It’s about getting pride instead of jealousy, inspiration, and growth like a new flower.
Kim: That’s great. I like that you’re getting so poetic about it. That’s exactly what I’m hoping to do with this blog post; create space for the thought of inclusivity and heightening its value.
Dean: It’s about having the opportunity, not dictating that this is how the industry will go. You just want to know you’re included. When submissions are made to casting directors, let’s welcome these people and not exclude others. We’re not saying, Hey, man, no, you can’t read for this because you’re not indigenous. No, if they have the ability and talent, they should also be included.
Kim: Right. That’s interesting.
Dean: It should go to the best man or woman for the job. That’s the inclusivity. Then we, as Indigenous players and BIPOCs, get better at it. With more opportunity comes more challenge, and with more challenge, you get better.
Kim: So you’re saying you need a good challenge to improve?
Dean: I like to use a tennis analogy. When I used to play tennis, I always tried to play with someone better than me. And by playing with someone who challenged me every time, my game got better. I’d lose a lot, but doing that would force me to improve because I’m not down to lose. And it’s the same thing with these voiceover opportunities. Instead of saying you can only hire BIPOC people for these roles, open it up to whoever fits the essence of what will be there. We all want the good roles, you know, the good stuff. What’s been lacking is the opportunity – that’s the bottom line.
Kim: I love this. It’s interesting because when I talk with one of my dear buddies who happens to be a black woman, the topic of opportunity often comes up. I’ve been in the industry for about 40 years, and when I started, the options in voiceover were slim. 80% of the commercials went to men and only 20% to women. It’s still not quite 50/50, but it’s gotten much closer. So I see a familiarity to it, but I never realized how much privilege I’ve had in the opportunities available to me versus my buddy, who happens to be a Black woman. I’ve had to learn to recognize that.
Dean: It’s fantastic that you’re getting that. It’s impactful because you’re showing empathy and understanding. Well done on your part, thank you.
Kim: I appreciate you taking the time to talk with me about this. I’ve been following you on Facebook for some time, and I genuinely value your opinion; what you’re talking about is terrific.
Dean: As I’ve grown older, my opinion has grown. I’ve had views as a young man that I no longer have as an older man. My opinion changes with my education and age.
It’s not excusing anyone but saying this is who we are. We’re all evolving and learning, and it might not all be politically correct, and it might not be evolved and woke and all the things that I want it to be, but it’s what I know.
Kim: It’s funny that you’re saying that. I’ve noticed that the online voice over community can get rabid over certain things. Last year, I observed a few comments from people who didn’t understand this notion of inclusivity, authenticity, and space-making. I posted about it and wondered if I might get backlash, but I don’t care.
Dean: It’s education. I love that you say I don’t care; because you’re right. Bring on the backlash. It’s saying I’m not going to fight with you. I’m going to give you all the information needed. Then I’ll give you more input from other people so you can see the truth. Thank you very much for including me, Kim. I’m very flattered that you’ve asked for my opinion and you’ve listened, and you’ve helped.