NAVA's Best Practices for Authentic Casting

The Importance of Authentic Casting for Voice Actors

executive summary

The National Association of Voice Actors (NAVA) promotes diversity, equity, inclusivity, accessibility, and authenticity in voiceover casting to accurately represent diverse backgrounds in media. The article below was written as a collaboration between NAVA board members who serve on the Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility (DEIA) Committee, as well as leaders from Voices of Global Majority (VGM), QueerVox, Veterans, and The Disabled Voice Actors Database (DVAD).

01

1) Understand Terminology

When discussing identities and communities, it’s crucial to use respectful and inclusive language.

Terminology evolves, and it’s essential to stay informed and sensitive to the preferences of individuals in order to create a safe space for employment.

Instead of relying on the top results from search engines which may contain euphemisms or outdated language, engage directly with members of the communities and ask how they currently refer to themselves and others within that specific community.

Language is not one-size-fits-all. Even within specific communities there are divergent opinions, so don’t assume that an individual person has been referred to correctly. A prior experience with one member of an underrepresented, marginalized, or protected group does not necessarily represent the choices and/or preferences of the entire community.

As an example, for performers with disabilities that identify as Neurodiverse: Neurodiversity is a spectrum (specifically, and especially with Autism) and one person’s neurodiversity isn’t the same as another. There is not one “definition” or “set of symptoms” for all who identify as Neurodiverse, nor is there a typical presentation or “Neurodiverse Sound.”

For specific guidance on asking questions during the casting process about identities that may fall under a protected class, please consult this reference article from SAG-AFTRA.

02

2) Expand Character Profiles and Breakdown Specifications

When crafting character profiles, and writing character breakdowns and casting specifications (“specs”), consider how a character’s identity is integral to the story.

Descriptions of characters should be multidimensional, with identities that enrich their narratives rather than defining them.

Avoid reducing identities to stereotypes or tokenizing characters based on demographic characteristics and push back on facets of characters that are not integral. Instead, focus on seeking out performances rooted in authentic and nuanced portrayals that reflect the diversity of human experiences. When non-critical identities are prioritized, it’s possible to miss the opportunity to hear different interpretations and performances.

If the client has celebrity touchstones, take the time to ensure that celebrity references that align with specs. As an example, it would be unacceptable to state that a casting is for Black male talents but only provide Caucasian celebrity references as inspiration for the role (eg. “Paul Rudd but Black”).

Similarly, it’s not particularly helpful to simply make a list of famous folks that share a single identity trait, like being Black, but otherwise are wildly divergent in age, tone, point of view, vocal quality, etc. For example, if a casting listed Keke Palmer and Viola Davis as two touchstones, it would appear the casting prioritized the fact that both are Black women, as opposed to prioritizing the integral facets of the role like age, voice type, voice delivery, etc. as these two actresses are two very different performers.

When an underrepresented or marginalized identity is critical to a character: Be explicit that only actors with that authentic lived experience should apply.

Recognize when systemic white supremacy and a historic preference for all things white/European-passing have formed the “typical” and generally accepted verbiage used in casting call notices. For example, a popular phrase in voiceover casting calls is the use of the term “No Accent.” This phrase rings immediately false as all actors possess a natural, authentic speaking voice and accent. The racist subtext behind “No Accent” is specifying a preference for a perceived white, cisgender, able-bodied speaker based on a European ideal. Assuming that an accent that can be classified as “neutral” and “American” and then referring to that classification as “no accent” is dismissive of other cultures and marginalized groups. It’s also confusing.

Similarly, do not advertise that a casting call is open to “All Ethnicities”, “All Ages”, “All Genders”, “All Abilities” if the hiring decision has already narrowed down the profile of what they are looking for. It is a waste of everyone’s time to ask actors to complete auditions (uncompensated labor) for roles they were never able to book.

03

3) Open Casting Calls Wider

Ensure that casting calls are open and available to performers from underrepresented groups. Go beyond offering minority talent pigeon holed casting calls, particularly for commercial and promo.

It’s important to recognize that, as an industry rife with gatekeepers, systemic barriers exist and have persisted for as long as the performing arts have been around. That means that traditional structures of oppression have prevented underrepresented individuals from achieving the same milestones as their cisgender Caucasian/white peers, particularly men. This includes representation from agents/managers, depth of networks and contacts through family and friends, and more.

In order to effectively reach underrepresented communities with opportunities, go beyond traditional distribution lists. Talent is equally distributed but opportunity is not. Talent is also not geolocated. Make an effort to share casting calls wider in order to reach talent that have not been invited to sit at tables within a system that has actively excluded them for decades. This can include, but is not limited to, utilizing casting databases like QueerVox, Voices of Global Majority, and The Disabled Voice Actors Database.

Avoid limiting opportunities based on stereotypes or preconceptions. Make an effort to include performers of global majority, performers who are members of the LGBTQIA+ community, and performers with disabilities in audition opportunities for mainstream and/or able-bodied roles.

Avoid tokenizing actors by keeping them in a narrow lane and recognize their talents and abilities beyond their primary identities and surface-level characteristics.

04

4) Make Accessibility & Accommodations Known

Accessibility should be a priority in casting processes in order to create a more inclusive and equitable casting process. Disability is an identity that frequently intersects with other underrepresented and marginalized communities.

Not all performers with disabilities will require accommodations, but by making accessibility information proactively known, performers with disabilities’ anxiety associated with identifying as disabled, or “outing” their disability can be reduced.

Proactively make actors and their representatives aware of reasonable accommodations that are available for performers with disabilities. Making everyone aware of reasonable accommodations is a best practice rooted in universal design that serves everyone: even folks who do not identify as performers with disabilities may benefit from an awareness of reasonable accommodations (eg. larger font scripts).

Recognize that the spectrum of disability includes many folks with “invisible” disabilities, including chronic illnesses, Neurodiversity, and more. Performers might appear and/or present healthy, Neurotypical, etc. It is impossible to look at or hear an individual and be able to confidently label them as disabled or non-disabled.

Work with performers with disabilities, writers, or consultants when creating casting breakdowns and audition environments for people with disabilities.

Ensure that all staff members and production that will interact with performers with disabilities understand the laws associated with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) as well as the reasonable accommodations requested by and/or granted to the performer throughout the process.

Avoid tropes such as using disabled people to inspire and/or gratify able-bodied people (known colloquially as “inspiration porn”), and infantilization of disabled people when writing character profiles and specs. Use language like “performers of all abilities welcome” over “no experience necessary” so as to not invalidate the experience and training of disabled industry professionals.

As we continue to navigate the fallout of a pandemic rooted in respiratory diseases, be mindful of geographical barriers that may limit some performers’ access to opportunities. Reasonable accommodations for performers with disabilities include remote audition submissions, remote recording possibilities with approved equipment, transportation assistance, larger-font materials, appropriate workstations, and more.

05

5) Remember That Underrepresented Groups are Not A Monolith

Acknowledge the diversity within underrepresented communities and avoid generalizations or stereotypes.

Every individual has unique experiences, perspectives, tastes, and talents.

Recognize intersectionality and the complexities of identity. Rather than tokenizing and/or stereotyping identities, celebrate the richness and diversity of human experiences. Be specific with story-driven details about characters, without being limiting.

It’s not possible to truly “hear diversity.” There is no one identifiable “sound” that applies to everyone from a specific marginalized, underrepresented, or protected group.

As an example, all Black actors do not sound the same or “urban.” A Black actor from Georgia and a Black actor from New York do not and should not sound the same, or a specific perceived way that can be identified as “Black.” Additionally, LGBTQIA+ talents should not be expected or asked to perform in any particular tone based on their or their character’s sexual orientation or gender identity. There is no queer, trans, or non-binary “sound.” There is no lesbian, gay, bisexual, asexual, or intersex “sound.” Rooted in queerphobia and transphobia, there are many harmful assumptions about what a queer or trans or non-binary person “sounds like” or “should sound like.” Just like any other person, the voices of LGBTQIA+ people, as well as all marginalized groups, traverse a diverse spectrum of sound.

Avoid gross over-generalizations and monoliths to represent character backgrounds, for example describing a character requirement as simply “Asian.” Asia represents 30% of Earth’s landmass and humans of Asian-descent account for 60% of the Earth’s population, or around 4.75 billion people. Reducing the spectrum of diversity found in Asian populations to just one generalized monolith is a function of white supremacy and the “model minority” myth that was popularized during the Civil Rights movement in the United States.

Further examples include:

  • There is a stereotype that often portrays and expects Neurodiverse characters to present as emotionless.
  • There are pervasive opinions that all veterans, a protected class, suffer from PTSD due to their service in combat zones and are inherently dangerous or risky cast members to have on-set due to their past experiences. Generalizations like this are rooted in stereotypes and false assumptions that have no place at the casting and hiring table.
  • Among all genders, there is a diverse spectrum of sound. When looking for voices that “sound androgynous” or land somewhere in the “middle” of this spectrum, please remember that not all non-binary people “sound androgynous.” And not all people with “androgynous-sounding voices” belong to non-binary people. Focus on describing the vocal qualities a client is seeking, rather than leaning on stereotypes.

06

6) Realize That Authentic Casting Is The Starting Point

Authentic casting goes beyond surface-level characteristics; it allows individuals to authentically tell their stories and to participate in telling all human stories.

Authentic representation leads to better storytelling that resonates with wider audiences while fostering empathy and understanding.

Authentic casting and representation can grow brand, network, studio, show, and character reach and impact, as marginalized communities and underrepresented groups hold up these projects as shining examples of their authentic stories.

The spectrum of diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility cannot be crammed into one character making them the “catch all” for anything that isn’t mainstream, cisgender, able-bodied, or white/European-passing.

By prioritizing authentic casting, we can all create a media ecosystem that truly reflects the complexity and diversity of the world we live in.

07

7) Support Underrepresented Actors

Supporting underrepresented actors involves more than just sending them audition opportunities and casting them in roles. It requires actively challenging stereotypes, advocating for inclusivity, removing systemic exclusion barriers, and providing resources and support.

Respect actors’ identities, pronouns, and accommodations. Ensure that their voices are among those sought out, heard, and valued.

Advocate for underrepresented actors. And, if you see something: speak up. Take on the labor required for true allyship. Actively break down barriers, demand accessibility, inclusion, equity, and diversity. If you’re an actor from a non-marginalized community, read auditions carefully and ask “Is this my story to tell?” before submitting.

As an industry participant with hiring power and authority: expect feedback from marginalized, underrepresented, and protected groups as our shared environment evolves and receive it with the spirit intended.

Recognize the power dynamic at play: make an effort to create spaces where people can share their authentic selves without fear of reprisal.

Supporting actors from marginalized, underrepresented, and protected groups allows these individuals to create and sustain wealth for themselves and their families as they’re invited to participate in the entertainment industry to the fullest extent possible.

When actors from marginalized, underrepresented, and protected groups begin to achieve success: don’t leave them behind and unprepared to deal with enhanced visibility to their work. Provide actors with tools, talking points, media training, and protection to help them deal with industry acceptance and potential backlash from online trolls or angered fans. Create a safe space where all actors feel safe advocating for themselves and others as performers representing the characters they portray.

By lifting up underrepresented actors, we can create a more equitable and inclusive workplace and industry.

08

8) Seek Out Better Representation at All Levels

Promote diversity and inclusion at all levels of the system. This includes diversity in the writer’s room, the casting table, directors and producers, at agencies and management companies, and beyond. Employ underrepresented individuals in recruiting and hiring roles across the spectrum of the industry, alongside their creative and performing peers.

Having diverse individuals at the production table at the beginning helps to remove systemic stigmas and barriers. We need underrepresented folks in the hiring positions and in the voiceover booth.

While it’s possible to hire a consultant to provide input on authentic lived experiences for underrepresented, marginalized, and protected groups, consulting is not always the correct solution. Consultants can provide valuable insight, but ensure their feedback informs the project at multiple stages, not just one. Even better, hire diverse employees for the project duration so the contributions of underrepresented folks are rewarded versus only gathering their feedback to be used by non-marginalized peers who receive the compensation, credit, and career advancement.

Ensure that decision-makers reflect the diversity of the communities they serve and be a consistent advocate for inclusive casting practices.

By prioritizing diverse voices and perspectives, we can all create media that reflects the richness and complexity of the world around us: made by us and for us. Success

looks like underrepresented, marginalized, and protected groups being hired – and rehired – at all levels of the entertainment industry.

conclusion

By adopting these best practices, we can foster a more inclusive and equitable entertainment industry. For specific guidance on casting underrepresented groups, refer to resources like QueerVox, Voices of Global Majority, and The Disabled Voice Actors Database.

For further insights keep reading below for more the full article guidelines. Or, contact us at DEIA@navavoices.org.

Full Article

NAVA's Best Practices for Authentic Casting

Best Practices for Authentic Casting

The Importance of Authentic Casting for Voice Actors

The National Association of Voice Actors (NAVA) is committed to promoting diversity, equity, inclusivity, accessibility, and authenticity in voiceover casting.

We recognize and celebrate the importance of accurately representing diverse backgrounds and identities in the media that we consume day in and day out.

This page will cover best practices that can apply to any underrepresented or marginalized community, however we recognize that there are deeper specifics or nuances that might apply to only one group, or require more discussion, research, and learning. In addition to this page of general information, we invite folks to visit the casting databases of:

Before we dive into the specifics around authentic casting practices and identify best practices for those in recruiting, casting, and hiring positions, let’s first discuss and establish some foundational concepts.

Definitions and Foundational Concepts

Defining Underrepresented Groups and Protected Classes

Underrepresented groups refer to communities that have historically been marginalized or excluded from mainstream media, representation and opportunities through intentional and/or unconscious biases.

This can include, but is not limited to: people of color, individuals with disabilities, members of the LGBTQIA+ community, and other marginalized communities whose voices and experiences have been underrepresented, misrepresented, or harmfully represented via stereotypes and caricatures in the performing arts, including within voice acting performances.

Protected classes refer to groups of folks who are legally protected against laws, policies, or practices that would discriminate against them because of a shared characteristic. Protected classes include race, religious belief, national origin, age, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, pregnancy, citizenship, familial status, disability status, veteran status, and genetic information.

Acknowledging Harmful Practices

Underrepresented groups refer to communities that have historically been marginalized or excluded from mainstream media, representation and opportunities through intentional and/or unconscious biases.

This can include, but is not limited to: people of color, individuals with disabilities, members of the LGBTQIA+ community, and other marginalized communities whose voices and experiences have been underrepresented, misrepresented, or harmfully represented via stereotypes and caricatures in the performing arts, including within voice acting performances.

Protected classes refer to groups of folks who are legally protected against laws, policies, or practices that would discriminate against them because of a shared characteristic. Protected classes include race, religious belief, national origin, age, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, pregnancy, citizenship, familial status, disability status, veteran status, and genetic information.

Importance of Representation

Representation matters. We believe that it is crucial for all people to see themselves accurately and respectfully reflected in the media they consume. Authentic representation validates the existence of diverse experiences, promotes inclusivity, fosters empathy, and shatters preconceived prejudices.

Everyone deserves to see themselves correctly represented in a respectful and authentic manner, not through the lens of uninformed supposition.

We exist in a world that centers and over-represents non-marginalized identities (eg. white, cisgender, heterosexual, non-disabled, male). And performers from marginalized communities have limited characters that match up to their identities – rarely enough to sustain a career. Therefore, underrepresented performers deserve the opportunity to be seen and considered for non-marginalized roles. For example, invite performers with disabilities to be considered for non-disabled characters, or a performer who is a member of the LGBTQIA+ community to read for a straight and/or cisgender character.

Performers from underrepresented communities deserve the opportunity to be seen and considered for mainstream roles. For example, invite performers with disabilities to be considered for able-bodied characters, or a performer who identifies as a member of the LGBTQIA+ community to read for a straight, cisgender character.

Performers from protected classes, such as veterans, deserve to tell veterans’ stories. Read more here about the concept of “stolen valor” to understand the importance of accurate veteran representation.

Unlike on-camera performances, voice actors are rarely seen by the consumers of media that they appear in. Because of this, it is even more important for those in hiring and casting positions to commit to authentic casting principles.

Empowering and Inviting Communities to Tell Their Own Stories and Others

The principle of “nothing about us, without us” underscores the importance of making way for people from underrepresented and marginalized communities to tell not only their own stories, but to also participate in telling all stories. Not just the stories centered on diversity and inclusion, but all human stories.

Authentic representation requires authentic voices. By empowering individuals to share their own narratives, we can challenge stereotypes, break down barriers, develop dialogue and create more inclusive media landscapes.

But, it is not as easy as simply empowering individuals from underrepresented backgrounds.

Additional systemic changes are needed in order to make the media landscape safe and inclusive. We must actively work to include underrepresented individuals in groups and conversations where they have not historically been seen, present, or granted access. We must actively work to ensure these voices have a seat at the table when decisions are being made.

While power dynamics can create fear of repercussions, we must call out instances of inappropriate casting and/or hiring behavior that continues to reinforce stereotypes, tokenism, or other outdated practices, such as casting a Caucasian/white voice actor to provide the voice acting performance for a character of color.

Ensuring that performers from underrepresented, marginalized, and protected groups get access to audition and book opportunities allows the wealth created from these jobs to be shared. Every marginalized community needs access to the broadly-represented, non-marginalized roles in order to create lasting careers.

By inviting actors to participate in the profit of the entertainment industry, it provides the chance to build long, thriving careers alongside their mainstream, overrepresented peers.

Best Practices

With those key foundational concepts established, let’s move on to identifying some key best practices for authentic casting and representation in voiceover work:

1) Understand Terminology

When discussing identities and communities, it’s crucial to use respectful and inclusive language.

Terminology evolves, and it’s essential to stay informed and sensitive to the preferences of individuals in order to create a safe space for employment.

Instead of relying on the top results from search engines which may contain euphemisms or outdated language, engage directly with members of the communities and ask how they currently refer to themselves and others within that specific community.

Language is not one-size-fits-all. Even within specific communities there are divergent opinions, so don’t assume that an individual person has been referred to correctly. A prior experience with one member of an underrepresented, marginalized, or protected group does not necessarily represent the choices and/or preferences of the entire community.

As an example, for performers with disabilities that identify as Neurodiverse: Neurodiversity is a spectrum (specifically, and especially with Autism) and one person’s neurodiversity isn’t the same as another. There is not one “definition” or “set of symptoms” for all who identify as Neurodiverse, nor is there a typical presentation or “Neurodiverse Sound.”

For specific guidance on asking questions during the casting process about identities that may fall under a protected class, please consult this reference article from SAG-AFTRA.

2) Expand Character Profiles and Breakdown Specifications

When crafting character profiles, and writing character breakdowns and casting specifications (“specs”), consider how a character’s identity is integral to the story.

Descriptions of characters should be multidimensional, with identities that enrich their narratives rather than defining them.

Avoid reducing identities to stereotypes or tokenizing characters based on demographic characteristics and push back on facets of characters that are not integral. Instead, focus on seeking out performances rooted in authentic and nuanced portrayals that reflect the diversity of human experiences. When non-critical identities are prioritized, it’s possible to miss the opportunity to hear different interpretations and performances.

If the client has celebrity touchstones, take the time to ensure that celebrity references that align with specs. As an example, it would be unacceptable to state that a casting is for Black male talents but only provide Caucasian celebrity references as inspiration for the role (eg. “Paul Rudd but Black”).

Similarly, it’s not particularly helpful to simply make a list of famous folks that share a single identity trait, like being Black, but otherwise are wildly divergent in age, tone, point of view, vocal quality, etc. For example, if a casting listed Keke Palmer and Viola Davis as two touchstones, it would appear the casting prioritized the fact that both are Black women, as opposed to prioritizing the integral facets of the role like age, voice type, voice delivery, etc. as these two actresses are two very different performers.

When an underrepresented or marginalized identity is critical to a character: Be explicit that only actors with that authentic lived experience should apply.

Recognize when systemic white supremacy and a historic preference for all things white/European-passing have formed the “typical” and generally accepted verbiage used in casting call notices. For example, a popular phrase in voiceover casting calls is the use of the term “No Accent.” This phrase rings immediately false as all actors possess a natural, authentic speaking voice and accent. The racist subtext behind “No Accent” is specifying a preference for a perceived white, cisgender, able-bodied speaker based on a European ideal. Assuming that an accent that can be classified as “neutral” and “American” and then referring to that classification as “no accent” is dismissive of other cultures and marginalized groups. It’s also confusing.

Similarly, do not advertise that a casting call is open to “All Ethnicities”, “All Ages”, “All Genders”, “All Abilities” if the hiring decision has already narrowed down the profile of what they are looking for. It is a waste of everyone’s time to ask actors to complete auditions (uncompensated labor) for roles they were never able to book.

3) Open Casting Calls Wider

Ensure that casting calls are open and available to performers from underrepresented groups. Go beyond offering minority talent pigeon holed casting calls, particularly for commercial and promo.

It’s important to recognize that, as an industry rife with gatekeepers, systemic barriers exist and have persisted for as long as the performing arts have been around. That means that traditional structures of oppression have prevented underrepresented individuals from achieving the same milestones as their cisgender Caucasian/white peers, particularly men. This includes representation from agents/managers, depth of networks and contacts through family and friends, and more.

In order to effectively reach underrepresented communities with opportunities, go beyond traditional distribution lists. Talent is equally distributed but opportunity is not. Talent is also not geolocated. Make an effort to share casting calls wider in order to reach talent that have not been invited to sit at tables within a system that has actively excluded them for decades. This can include, but is not limited to, utilizing casting databases like QueerVox, Voices of Global Majority, and The Disabled Voice Actors Database.

Avoid limiting opportunities based on stereotypes or preconceptions. Make an effort to include performers of global majority, performers who are members of the LGBTQIA+ community, and performers with disabilities in audition opportunities for mainstream and/or able-bodied roles.

Avoid tokenizing actors by keeping them in a narrow lane and recognize their talents and abilities beyond their primary identities and surface-level characteristics.

4) Make Accessibility & Accommodations Known

Accessibility should be a priority in casting processes in order to create a more inclusive and equitable casting process. Disability is an identity that frequently intersects with other underrepresented and marginalized communities.

Not all performers with disabilities will require accommodations, but by making accessibility information proactively known, performers with disabilities’ anxiety associated with identifying as disabled, or “outing” their disability can be reduced.

Proactively make actors and their representatives aware of reasonable accommodations that are available for performers with disabilities. Making everyone aware of reasonable accommodations is a best practice rooted in universal design that serves everyone: even folks who do not identify as performers with disabilities may benefit from an awareness of reasonable accommodations (eg. larger font scripts).

Recognize that the spectrum of disability includes many folks with “invisible” disabilities, including chronic illnesses, Neurodiversity, and more. Performers might appear and/or present healthy, Neurotypical, etc. It is impossible to look at or hear an individual and be able to confidently label them as disabled or non-disabled.

Work with performers with disabilities, writers, or consultants when creating casting breakdowns and audition environments for people with disabilities.

Ensure that all staff members and production that will interact with performers with disabilities understand the laws associated with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) as well as the reasonable accommodations requested by and/or granted to the performer throughout the process.

Avoid tropes such as using disabled people to inspire and/or gratify able-bodied people (known colloquially as “inspiration porn”), and infantilization of disabled people when writing character profiles and specs. Use language like “performers of all abilities welcome” over “no experience necessary” so as to not invalidate the experience and training of disabled industry professionals.

As we continue to navigate the fallout of a pandemic rooted in respiratory diseases, be mindful of geographical barriers that may limit some performers’ access to opportunities. Reasonable accommodations for performers with disabilities include remote audition submissions, remote recording possibilities with approved equipment, transportation assistance, larger-font materials, appropriate workstations, and more.

5) Remember That Underrepresented Groups are Not A Monolith

Acknowledge the diversity within underrepresented communities and avoid generalizations or stereotypes.

Every individual has unique experiences, perspectives, tastes, and talents.

Recognize intersectionality and the complexities of identity. Rather than tokenizing and/or stereotyping identities, celebrate the richness and diversity of human experiences. Be specific with story-driven details about characters, without being limiting.

It’s not possible to truly “hear diversity.” There is no one identifiable “sound” that applies to everyone from a specific marginalized, underrepresented, or protected group.

As an example, all Black actors do not sound the same or “urban.” A Black actor from Georgia and a Black actor from New York do not and should not sound the same, or a specific perceived way that can be identified as “Black.” Additionally, LGBTQIA+ talents should not be expected or asked to perform in any particular tone based on their or their character’s sexual orientation or gender identity. There is no queer, trans, or non-binary “sound.” There is no lesbian, gay, bisexual, asexual, or intersex “sound.” Rooted in queerphobia and transphobia, there are many harmful assumptions about what a queer or trans or non-binary person “sounds like” or “should sound like.” Just like any other person, the voices of LGBTQIA+ people, as well as all marginalized groups, traverse a diverse spectrum of sound.

Avoid gross over-generalizations and monoliths to represent character backgrounds, for example describing a character requirement as simply “Asian.” Asia represents 30% of Earth’s landmass and humans of Asian-descent account for 60% of the Earth’s population, or around 4.75 billion people. Reducing the spectrum of diversity found in Asian populations to just one generalized monolith is a function of white supremacy and the “model minority” myth that was popularized during the Civil Rights movement in the United States.

Further examples include:

  • There is a stereotype that often portrays and expects Neurodiverse characters to present as emotionless.
  • There are pervasive opinions that all veterans, a protected class, suffer from PTSD due to their service in combat zones and are inherently dangerous or risky cast members to have on-set due to their past experiences. Generalizations like this are rooted in stereotypes and false assumptions that have no place at the casting and hiring table.
  • Among all genders, there is a diverse spectrum of sound. When looking for voices that “sound androgynous” or land somewhere in the “middle” of this spectrum, please remember that not all non-binary people “sound androgynous.” And not all people with “androgynous-sounding voices” belong to non-binary people. Focus on describing the vocal qualities a client is seeking, rather than leaning on stereotypes.

6) Realize That Authentic Casting Is The Starting Point

Authentic casting goes beyond surface-level characteristics; it allows individuals to authentically tell their stories and to participate in telling all human stories.

Authentic representation leads to better storytelling that resonates with wider audiences while fostering empathy and understanding.

Authentic casting and representation can grow brand, network, studio, show, and character reach and impact, as marginalized communities and underrepresented groups hold up these projects as shining examples of their authentic stories.

The spectrum of diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility cannot be crammed into one character making them the “catch all” for anything that isn’t mainstream, cisgender, able-bodied, or white/European-passing.

By prioritizing authentic casting, we can all create a media ecosystem that truly reflects the complexity and diversity of the world we live in.

7) Support Underrepresented Actors

Supporting underrepresented actors involves more than just sending them audition opportunities and casting them in roles. It requires actively challenging stereotypes, advocating for inclusivity, removing systemic exclusion barriers, and providing resources and support.

Respect actors’ identities, pronouns, and accommodations. Ensure that their voices are among those sought out, heard, and valued.

Advocate for underrepresented actors. And, if you see something: speak up. Take on the labor required for true allyship. Actively break down barriers, demand accessibility, inclusion, equity, and diversity. If you’re an actor from a non-marginalized community, read auditions carefully and ask “Is this my story to tell?” before submitting.

As an industry participant with hiring power and authority: expect feedback from marginalized, underrepresented, and protected groups as our shared environment evolves and receive it with the spirit intended.

Recognize the power dynamic at play: make an effort to create spaces where people can share their authentic selves without fear of reprisal.

Supporting actors from marginalized, underrepresented, and protected groups allows these individuals to create and sustain wealth for themselves and their families as they’re invited to participate in the entertainment industry to the fullest extent possible.

When actors from marginalized, underrepresented, and protected groups begin to achieve success: don’t leave them behind and unprepared to deal with enhanced visibility to their work. Provide actors with tools, talking points, media training, and protection to help them deal with industry acceptance and potential backlash from online trolls or angered fans. Create a safe space where all actors feel safe advocating for themselves and others as performers representing the characters they portray.

By lifting up underrepresented actors, we can create a more equitable and inclusive workplace and industry.

8) Seek Out Better Representation at All Levels

Promote diversity and inclusion at all levels of the system. This includes diversity in the writer’s room, the casting table, directors and producers, at agencies and management companies, and beyond. Employ underrepresented individuals in recruiting and hiring roles across the spectrum of the industry, alongside their creative and performing peers.

Having diverse individuals at the production table at the beginning helps to remove systemic stigmas and barriers. We need underrepresented folks in the hiring positions and in the voiceover booth.

While it’s possible to hire a consultant to provide input on authentic lived experiences for underrepresented, marginalized, and protected groups, consulting is not always the correct solution. Consultants can provide valuable insight, but ensure their feedback informs the project at multiple stages, not just one. Even better, hire diverse employees for the project duration so the contributions of underrepresented folks are rewarded versus only gathering their feedback to be used by non-marginalized peers who receive the compensation, credit, and career advancement.

Ensure that decision-makers reflect the diversity of the communities they serve and be a consistent advocate for inclusive casting practices.

By prioritizing diverse voices and perspectives, we can all create media that reflects the richness and complexity of the world around us: made by us and for us. Success

looks like underrepresented, marginalized, and protected groups being hired – and rehired – at all levels of the entertainment industry.

conclusion

We hope this resource page provides the voiceover community with valuable insights and guidance for the best practices surrounding casting authentic casting for underrepresented and marginalized communities.

Together, we can create a more inclusive and equitable entertainment industry for all performers – regardless of their identity or background.

For more specific information on a particular underrepresented, marginalized, or protected group, please visit these casting databases:

Thanks for reading. Have a thought about this? Reach us at DEIA@navavoices dot org.

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