Casting Correctly: White Men Can’t Jump Into Any Role They Want.
As a White European Straight Cis-gendered Male I am possibly in the ultimate position of privilege. The barriers that exist for many others simply do not for me. This is not a brag nor a boast, I merely want to recognise the fact.
As a voice actor/narrator I will at times have to voice characters that are not of my given ethnicity. Depending on the genre/medium, maybe not even of my species. How to proceed? Do I lean into it and try and provide the most accurate representation I can? Should I merely offer a subtler interpretation?
I personally would never narrate a full project in an accent belonging to someone outside of my native ethnicity, White Caucasian/White Irish/North European. Not only would I not do as good a job, but I lack the lived experiences that would bring the story to life.
There may be situations where some of the dialogue I need to read is spoken by a character that is of a different ethnicity or a person of colour, in which case it’s essential to proceed respectfully and collaborate with the creative team/author to make sure their vision is done justice. If it seemed I wouldn’t be able to portray somebody well and with respect then I simply wouldn’t take the job. No-one needs to hear a Northern Irish guy mangle a Caribbean or Moroccan accent.
There’s been a conversation in Hollywood in recent years about whether roles that portray traditionally marginalised people should be played by actors from outside that community. Scarlett Johansson is an example of someone who has drawn criticism for playing the lead role in a ‘whitewashed*’ adaptation of a much-loved Manga, as well as signing up to play a transgender character.
A certain type of person would argue that, as actors, it’s their job to inhabit a character that isn’t at all like them. But, before we even get to the debate about whether its offensive to essentially be a tourist in the lived experience of a marginalised person, there’s another point to consider.
Marginalised people are often told that they can’t play a role outside of their identity. The roles that they are suitable for are limited, so the idea that these roles could be handed to somebody who is free of these limits seems like a failing on the part of a society which claims to want to level the playing field.
For a narrator in these times I would offer that we should ask of ourselves ‘Should I?’ before ‘Can I?’
Here’s a link that gives an idea about whitewashing in American cinema.