You say potato and I say potahto... Let's call the whole thing off?
Gender, race and accent: diversity and representation in front of the micro and on stage.
By Vicky Tessio
“Shall we vote on which race I am already? It is important. In order to develop my career as an actress it is important to make this clear, I think. I was recently asked: Why are you not in Palm Trees in the Snow? Palm trees in the Snow is a movie that has several black Spanish actors, and I answer: "I do not look black". Other times, instead, they say: "Too racial for that role."
They also tell me: How are you going to play a nun, how do we justify that the nun has your skin colour? That is why it is important that today, here, once and for all, we decide what my race is and then I will be able to go calmly through life and I will know exactly what I should ask for, what castings I should go to, how to present myself, be more aware of myself, to know how others see me. Because you will all say to me "Be yourself", “Be whoever you want". I'm sorry, that's impossible, I'm an actress. I am the opposite of being myself or being who I want, I am all of you, I am whatever you want. So you have to decide what you want it to be”
La Blanca (The white girl). This is the name of the monologue to which these lines belong, written by the playwright María Folguera. A play that relates with humor, irony and lucidity, the family history of its protagonist, the Spanish actress Anahí Beholi. A story of racism, silence, colonialism, survival, reflection, struggle, and love.
"What happens when your parents are hippies from Ibiza, your grandmothers are a Guinean lady and the other a Catalan lady, your grandfather is a German landowner, and you are an actress that nobody knows how to classify?" ... The play La Blanca was performed at the Cervantes Theatre in London at the beginning of this year, 2019, and in the subsequent conversation, we talked about racism, privilege and, naturally, diversity. "I want to be an ordinary girl, who is white!" the Anahí/character had said on stage. I want them to call me to act as a waitress, or a judge, or a teacher, or ... Or what is the same: I want them to stop calling me to be the black girl.
A QUESTION OF ACCENTS...?
In a recent conversation about equality in the world of broadcasting, the actor and coach Stephane Cornicard, who has lived in London for more than twenty years, raised the following question: ""London has one of the largest populations of French-speaking residents in the world... Do you hear the French accent on the radio, on television? No, right? How is this possible, this lack of representation of such a large population ...? "
I am a voice actress whose mother tongue is the Spanish of Spain, that is, my native accent is Castilian Spanish.
Spanish is the second most spoken language on the planet after Mandarin Chinese. It is a language born in the Iberian Peninsula and taken to América by the Spanish conquerors. The great majority of those who traveled there, under the orders of the great names remembered by History, were men from the south: from Andalusia, from Extremadura ... This seems to be the explanation of why in Latin America the pronunciation of the letter C is non-existent. Not because it has disappeared, but because it never arrived. In the south of Spain the seseo is dominant (the pronunciation of C and Z as an S), and this is also true of the Canary Islands.
The differences between the Spanish of both shores are expansive not only because of the accent, but also by prosody, vocabulary ... A difference much greater than that between British and American English. Sadly, the reason for this difference is the absence of contact, of understanding, of closeness ... It is true that the American industry is a leader, that its films, brands, companies have a global impact. British productions, magnificent as they are, are not far behind. And the English language is, as we know, the global language. The closeness between both countries and their people is evident, although there are also commonly jokes and sarcastic remarks about each other, when they refer to their way of speaking and their respective customs. (Remember Love, actually ...?) But my feeling is that they know each other, they relate to each other and create together on a regular basis. And I confess that I feel a special envy when I hear an American colleague say that in their country they love the British accent.
We Spanish speakers know that this is far cry from what is happening in the case of our language. The Latin accent has been systematically rejected in Spain. The comments of some Spanish listeners to the Latin voiceover dubbing that we discover on YouTube are terrible, and tend to be equally disparaging in the opposite case.
In Spain, for our part, we only seem to allow our standard accent, which is Castilian Spanish. We ourselves have been commissioned to disregard the other accents and languages of our own country. In Latin America and the USA, on the other hand, the industry uses the so called Neutral Spanish, a convention created to set a fictitious standard.
The accents are also, therefore, a matter of serious diversity on which there is much to discuss and debate.
A DIVERSE INDUSTRY
To try and find answers to all these types of questions about diversity, or the absence of it, the focus is usually on creatives: why content creators, writers, screenwriters, developers, copywriters, directors, are not inclusive, do not promote inclusivity, and limit themselves by repeating formulas and clichés? But in the creative industry, precisely in the creative industry, the presence of people from all different backgrounds is constant. I would even dare to say, that it is its very essence! Are we not already, therefore, within the industry? Are we not a part of it ...? Are not we, in fact, THE industry? The problem then, would appear to reside at higher levels: with the owner, with the investor, with the ultimate boss (who is usually a man). In the person who has the money that pays for the product: the spot, the play, the movie, the video game ...
Well, the data, ladies and gentlemen, is there and is undeniable: Black Panther is the tenth highest grossing film of all time in the world box office after breaking the barrier of 1.3 million US dollars. A film with a cast of black actors who do not play stereotyped black characters.
GETTING OUT OF THE KITCHEN
In the cycle of performances run at the Cervantes Theatre under the umbrella of “Madrid is a female name”, in which La Blanca was presented, the London audience was also able to enjoy A room of One’s own by Virginia Wolfe, adapted by María Ruíz and performed by Clara Sanchís.
After the show, the actress confirmed her love for this work because, among other things, it was the first time that in her already extensive career she was not playing a woman in love, a girlfriend, a wife, or woman out of love. It was the first time she was able to talk about "other things" on stage.
"A new study conducted by the Centre for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University concludes that, despite greater coverage and knowledge of Hollywood's approach towards gender equality, women are still underrepresented in the cinema. The study notes that 20 percent of the top 250 films of 2018 featured women in roles characterised as "above the line," certainly an imperfect term used to describe the work of directors, writers, producers and other key creatives. That number rose slightly compared to 2017, but still amounts to a "radical underrepresentation," according to the study’s author Martha Lauzen, who notes that without equally radical steps to correct the problem, "it is unlikely that we will see a significant change." (wired.com)
In 2017 and 2018 I was dubbing some programmes and documentaries for Netflix into Castilian Spanish. It was quite obvious that, the volume of work was greater for male voice actors than for female ones. It only increased in documentaries whose central theme was women (as in Mecury 13 ) and in cooking programs (not ones about great chefs, which as everyone knows are mostly men, but "normal people" who know how to cook). The remaining content continues to have a more male presence. That is, the lack of vocal representation is also related to the lack of visual representation. The actresses who work in Automatic Dialog Replacement or dubbing have always known this. (And also, those of us women who dream of our voice playing in car ads, for example. For this reason, the Voice Arts Award 2018 achieved by Mexican voiceover artist Vero López Treviño as a result of her voicing Mazda's Drive Together campaign, was a double triumph.)
EQUALITY IN DIVERSITY I am a European white woman who has lived in London for four years. I am, therefore, extraordinarily privileged. Although not 100%, of course. For that, I would need to have been born a man. I am also a Spanish woman living in the UK during the Brexit era. With two European languages and accents.
“You only are free when you realize you belong no place
— you belong every place — no place at all.” MAYA ANGELOU
In a world classified on the basis of stereotypes, I personally feel that there are still many barriers to break down. In the advance party, the final step is clear: in a truly diverse scenario, Anahí Beholi will interpret any character, independent of her race, as well as a character of her race; the films, series, plays and advertisements will go far beyond the Bechdel Test (a measure of the representation of women in fiction); Latinas will stop playing only Latinas to become equal citizens; accents will not act as a barrier, but will be the great added value and, in any case, they will come alive with the utmost naturalness. Maybe Netflix and digital platforms will help in this regard. Also the audiobook world.
I would like to end this reflection with good news, and a famous quote. The news that the Spanish Audio Drama Company, of which I have the honor of being Director and Co-founder, will soon be a tangible reality in London. A reality that will allow us to continue delving into the meaning of the beautiful words of Isaac Newton that I invite you to remember now:
“We built too many walls and not enough bridges”.
Let us continue to build and affirm that what unites us most are precisely our thrilling differences.