Blind Centered Audio Description Chat: – Representation Really Matters

We continue the conversation around cultural competence – even though competence is setting the bar kind of low…

Representation matters. That’s on screen, stage and everywhere. For Audio Description users, our experience of visual content is filtered through AD. That includes the voice of the narrator.

In this edited recording from November 2022, hear how some believe AD is getting better at representation and others, well, feel there’s a lot more we can do.

With that in mind, please add your name to support The Pledge for Culturally Competent & Inclusive Audio Description.

Join Us Live

The BCAD Live Chats can take place on a variety of platforms including Twitter and Linked In.

To stay up to date with the latest information and join us live follow:
* Nefertiti Matos Olivares
* [Cheryl Green]*(
* Thomas Reid](


Transcript – Created By Cheryl Green

Show the transcript

Music begins
THOMAS: Welcome to the Blind-Centered Audio Description Chats. These are the edited recordings of the Blind-Centered Audio Description Live Chats!
CHERYL: The live is the most fun part! We get together, we start with a question, and then we invite up anybody from the audience who wants to come and chat with us, agree, disagree, shed light on something that we hadn’t thought about before, which is Nefertiti’s favorite. [electric whoosh]
NEFERTITI: I’m Nefertiti Matos Olivares, and I’m a bilingual professional voiceover artist who specializes in audio description narration! I’m also a fervent cultural access advocate and a community organizer.
CHERYL: I’m Cheryl Green, an access artist, audio describer and captioner.
THOMAS: And I’m Thomas Reid, host and producer Reid My Mind Radio, voice artist, audio description narrator, consultant, and advocate.
SCOTT B: Hi, I’m Scott Blanks. I’m a passionate advocate for the highest quality audio description in all of the arts. I’m the co-founder of the LinkedIn Audio Description Group and the Twitter AD community.
SCOTT N: Scott Nixon here. I’m an audio description consumer and advocate, hoping to be an audio description narrator very, very soon. [electronic whoosh]
THOMAS: Hey, Nef, why don’t you tell people how they could join the live recording?
NEFERTITI: That’s really simple. Just follow us on social media to keep up with important details, such as dates, times, and what platform will be using. On Twitter, I’m @NefMatOli. Cheryl?
CHERYL: I’m @WhoAmIToStopIt.
THOMAS: I’m @TSRied, you know, R to the E I D.
NEFERTITI: How about you, Scott?
SCOTT B: I’m @BlindConfucius. That’s Blind Confucius.
SCOTT N: And you can catch me on my social media, Twitter only. That’s @MisterBrokenEyes, Capital M r Capital Broken Capital E y e s.
[smartphone selection beeps]
CHERYL: Recording now!

NEFERTITI: [laughs] Okay!
[air horn goes off twice, then the Oscars theme song begins, and recorded light applause play]
NEFERTITI: Ooh! Welcome. Welcome, everyone!
[Oscars theme song jumps ahead and gets louder, more epic, then suddenly stops]
NEFERTITI: [guffaws] Okay! Wow!
THOMAS: That’s funny.
NEFERTITI: I was telling the people how this is new for all of us and that you are our fearless host tonight. And look at all the entertainment you’re providing us. This is amazing.
THOMAS: Yeah, entertainment, and I don’t even hear it.
NEFERTITI: [laughs]
THOMAS: So, I’m not doing a great job. [laughs] My little doohickey here.
NEFERTITI: Generally, we’re granting people two minutes to state your case, ask your questions, whatever. If your two minutes run out, we will let you know. We’ve got Thomas with his doohickey, okay? So, [laughs] we’re gonna keep this very entertaining and do like, what is it, Thomas, how they do at the Oscars, that they—
THOMAS: Yeah, sort of like how they do at the Oscars. And, you know, if you start to hear some music playing… [Oscars music comes back in low and builds] then you know.
NEFERTITI: Mmhmm. We hear it.
THOMAS: You can start wrapping it up, you know what I’m saying.
NEFERTITI: But if you keep going? [laughs]
THOMAS: And it starts to get louder and louder. Yeah. It gets louder, and you should start to get the point. If not, it should get louder, and you should really get the point. [chuckles as music gets louder, then suddenly stops]
NEFERTITI: [chuckles] Love it. Love it. ) I’m Nefertiti Matos Olivares. I’ve been the one talking at you this whole time. Welcome again. I live and breathe audio description: From the job I do every day, which I just started about a week ago, to my side hustles. Everything, anything about me and my life right now is audio description. I narrate it, QC it—that’s quality control—I write it from time to time, and most importantly to me, I advocate for it. I really believe that accessibility is a human right, and audio description has everything to do with that. All right. Let’s hear from Cheryl next.
CHERYL: How do I follow that, Nefertiti?
NEFERTITI: [laughs]
CHERYL: Hello, I’m Cheryl Green. I am an audio describer. I do writing, narration. What are the other pieces? I do the audio editing.
CHERYL: Sighted QC when needed, editing, project management, also have had several wonderful opportunities to co-teach and present with Thomas on audio description and topics around it. I can’t remember if I said I’m a captioner too, but I also do that. And I will turn it over to Thomas now.
THOMAS: And that’s the amazing access artist, Cheryl Green. [laughs]
CHERYL: [laughs]
THOMAS: That’s right. I love that title. I love that title. What’s up, everybody? My name is Thomas Reid. I’m the host and producer of Reid My Mind Radio. And I am a voice artist, a audio description narrator, advocate, consultant. Actually, you know what? I’m a voice narrator, consultant, and most of all, advocate and consumer. That’s what it is, so. And happy to be here to have this conversation…. The end. I am done speaking. [laughs] Let me follow the rules.
NEFERTITI: There you go. )
NEFERTITI: All right, Thomas. Well, with that smooth voice that you’ve got, how about you get us started? You are our host tonight, so.
THOMAS: Thank you, Nef! [laughs]
NEFERTITI: You’re on. [laughs]
THOMAS: Nah, cool. I’m glad we’re having this discussion. I’m glad everybody came out. I’m glad to see an interest. And I really wanna find out where we stand, where we lie on this topic, and wherever you do, that’s cool. I hope we can have a conversation about it. I’m not here to necessarily only hear from one side, as if it’s a side thing. And so, yeah, that conversation is all about cultural competency, cultural respect, cultural responsiveness, however you want to kind of call it. But I’m gonna refer to it for now as cultural competency.
And just to talk about that. So, let’s talk about what exactly is that? What does it mean to be culturally competent? And so, to be honest with you, I wanted to make sure that I had the definition right. And so, I looked it up, and I like the definition. And there’s several. There’s several depending on what we’re talking about. But I think some of the things that I saw that they had in common, they had to do with, number one, valuing diversity. Okay? So, that’s differences, right? So, that’s putting a value on that, which is obviously important in anything we do in life because the things that we do in life, we should value. They should be consistent with what we believe in. The other part of that is having the capacity to sort of self-assess when it comes to your own culture and the culture of others. So, you kind of take that interest, right, and say, okay, “Hmm. Let me look at this. How does this impact, how is this impacted by or how does this impact the culture?” Being conscious of just the way different cultures interact. I love that word “conscious” because, you know, in order to make change or anything, we have to kind of be conscious about it first. And that goes into not only us as individuals, right, but also us as institutions or our place in institutions. So, whether that be a school, whether that be a corporation, whatever the case is.
And also, being culturally competent means you sort of reflect that in whatever it is that you do. So, if you make widgets, like we used to say in college, right in the Finance majors, you’ll know about the widgets. Whatever widgets are, whatever it is that you make, whatever service it is that you provide, if you include cultural competency in that, that reflects that, right? So, if you adhere to that, if you think about that, that makes up being culturally competent. And then it goes, if again, if we’re talking about an organization, it’s reflected in your policies, yes, your practice, and also in your administration in the way you do all of those things. That makes it a culturally competent thing. You can actually claim that.
So, obviously, when we talk about…maybe not so obvious depending on who’s here. But, you know, for those who are within the AD world, when we talk about audio description, there’s all of the different areas that make up audio description are sort of impacted by this. So, number one, if it’s valued by the organization top-down, then chances are it’s reflected in the end product, right? So, meaning the person who’s making the decisions from the beginning is thinking about culturally competent, competency. And therefore, when they pass it on to the writer of that AD project, they too are thinking about that. When it goes to the quality control process, they too are thinking about that. Of course, when it gets to the narration, again, say with me: “They too are thinking about that.” So, the whole, through the entire process, right?
But then I guess what happens is, if you’re familiar with the podcast, Reid My Mind Radio, I’ve been talking about this for a while, and we set up this audio description pledge. And the idea behind that really simply is that, you know what, y’all? We have a lot more power as people who work within the industry to say, “Hey, we believe in this. We wanna see this reflected in the end result. So, maybe there’s something that we can do.” Because if it’s not, again, if it’s not starting from the top down, maybe we’re thinking, “Well, okay, our organization isn’t about it. I’m about this. I believe in this, but the organization is not.” Well, maybe there are some things that we can do, and that’s really what that pledge is all about. That pledge is for folks who are working in the industry to say, hey, maybe there’s something you can do.
So, maybe we can start the topic. Imma back up a little bit ‘cause I guess I’m assuming that everyone knows what I mean and what we mean when we talk about that. So, after giving you that definition, we had a couple examples of when situations go wrong, where cultural competency isn’t reflected. And there’s one that’s pretty obvious. It’s the Black Panther, y’all. You know, I’m kind of tired of talking about Black Panther. And it’s not just Black Panther. It seems to be wherever Black Panther, any sort of reference to Black Panther comes into play because even a Judas and the Messiah. Again, same thing. But I’ll give you an example. Do y’all wanna— Nefertiti, let me ask you. Cheryl, do you wanna go to the example, or what do you wanna do? You think that’s cool?
NEFERTITI: I think an example would be perfect.
NEFERTITI: We can show you this in action what Thomas just beautifully talked about, because it happens all the time, and it’s, it’s…it’s insulting. It’s disrespectful. It’s…it’s just not okay.
THOMAS: It’s not okay.
NEFERTITI: And we three are staunch advocates for making it better. And hopefully, you’re here, you’re listening, so you are, too.
THOMAS: And before I even play the example, I wanna be clear. I wanna be really, really clear. This is not personal to anyone involved in this, okay? These are examples of someone who is not of the culture. And that is simply the case. It doesn’t reflect on them as an individual. It doesn’t reflect on anybody or anything like that in terms of personality. All right? So, I just wanna make sure that that is said. Even though I’m sure someone may wanna dismiss that. But—
NEFERTITI: That’s never our intention. Our intention is simply to underline the point we are trying to make here tonight.
THOMAS: Exactly. So, this first one, well, I’ll play it and then we could talk about it. All right?
[recorded clip plays]
AUDIO DESCRIPTION: A question appears in Spanish text.
GIRL: What does sueñito mean?
MAN: Sueñito? It means “little dream.”
AUDIO DESCRIPTION: As the question fades, the word “sueñito” (pronounced “swaneedo”] lingers.
[upbeat music plays, a digital alarm clock beeps]
AUDIO DESCRIPTION: A hand smacks an alarm clock, which reads 5:30 AM. The goateed man rises wearily and sits on the edge of his bed.
MAN: [sighs]
AUDIO DESCRIPTION: He gazes across his humble bedroom at some items attached to a cabinet door, including a gray flat cap, as well as photos of a man sporting this cap as he plays with a young boy. There’s also a photo of a tropical Cabana and a sticker reading “Republica Dominicana.” [recorded clip ends]
THOMAS: Okay. ¿A dónde está mi gente? [laughs] Okay, so, if you are…. [laughs]
NEFERTITI: [imitates an air horn blowing] I happen to be Dominican.
THOMAS: So then, you know what, Nef? You talk about it, sis.
NEFERTITI: Well, I will say I am American-born. I’m first-generation Dominican, but I’m still muy, muy, muy Dominicana, okay? I’m very Latina, very proud of it. First language is Spanish, etc., etc.. My folks are from the Dominican Republic, born and raised and all that. And this movie is, you may have heard of it. It’s called In the Heights by Lin-Manuel Miranda, who is Puerto Rican. And I guess I wanna know from folks when it comes time to speak, if you were able to hear the difference between how the character said a particular word in this case, “sueñito,” and how the narrator said it, “swanito.” That is very glaring for those of us who speak the language, for those of us who are of-the-culture. And it’s clear that this person is not Latino, and it’s baffling as to why that choice was made to not have someone do the audio description who is of-the-culture, who speaks the language, etc. These are choices that are being made every day with Black and brown cultures and languages and the like. And it just, it doesn’t make sense. As I said earlier, it’s insulting, disrespectful, jarring even. And we want you all to be conscious of that. I love that word, too, Thomas. Do we have another example?
THOMAS: We do. We do. I can play the other example as well. This example I’m sure folks are familiar with, but Imma bring it back.
NEFERTITI: While you get that ready, my last thought is simply that, you know, these directors, producers, actors, etc., everything that’s chosen to go into to be part of a film, a TV show, whatever it is, is done with great intention, right? There’s nothing in these works of art that the writers, the directors, etc. don’t want there. And so, it’s…why cheat that? Why change that so fundamentally when it comes to the audio description, right? Which is something that enhances this media and things of that sort. So, just something to think about again. Why go so, why stray so far from what’s going on, in the audio description? Why is that okay? Why is that the accepted practice?
CHERYL: I do know that there’s, there are different schools of thought on this. And there are definitely people who are like, “Well, this is our staff. This is who we have on staff. And they’re a very talented, highly trained person, and they’re gonna do a great job at this.” But one thing that you started to hint at, Nefertiti, is the intentionality of the casting. You’re very intent-, the director’s very intentional with the casting of who the actors are. And I just, I think there’s a lot of voice artists here who I’m not sure, some may be new to audio description or emerging in the field. And we don’t want the audio description to be disruptive to the flow of the film. And what happens when you have the audio describer who says, “swanito,” which when I say it like that, I think I’m sort of mimicking the way that person said it. There are at least three sounds that were incorrect in that, three or four different sounds. And if you are doing the audio description narration and cannot pronounce the words correctly in the film, that is creating a very disruptive experience for the audio description audience. And in Nef’s case, you’re Dominican. So, you really hear it and feel it. For someone like me who is not Dominican, I’m white, but I speak Spanish, and I can hear it. And it was completely jarring for me. So, we want this beautiful, immersive, non-disruptive experience and intentional, culturally sensitive. And culturally responsive casting is one way to really ensure that. And I shall stop now.
THOMAS: Cool. Cool. So, I’ll play the next example. And again, we’ll pay close attention to not only the…. I’ll play that example. We’ll talk about it.
[recorded clip plays]
AUDIO DESCRIPTION: Okoye sits in meditation, facing a window in the huge jet. [a cappella singing rings out throughout the clip] T’Challa sits beside Nakia, who holds his hand dotingly. Okoye gazes at the window.
OKOYE: Sister Nakia.My Prince.
NAKIA: We are home.
AUDIO DESCRIPTION: Wakanda. Mist floats around mountain ridges. Nakia and T’Challa join Okoye at the window. The jet flies above a canyon nestled between vast shelves of rock. Shepherds wave on a slope of wild grass as the jet soars overhead. Two men gallop over scrub land on horses and wave up at the jet. The jet fires its boosters and accelerates away. It approaches a mountain.
T’CHALLA: This never gets old.
AUDIO DESCRIPTION: They fly straight at the mountain as though they’re going to crash into it only to fly straight through it like it’s a hologram and approach a futuristic city of tall buildings.
[triumphant, epic music, ship whooshing past]
THOMAS: Okay. Black Panther. Y’all know what it is. So, obviously, that gentleman— And again, I say it all the time. This is nothing personal. Would love to have a pint with him. [laughs] See how I did that? Yeah. Obviously, a white British man. And as Cheryl was saying, that was disruptive, I know from my experience. But it goes beyond that. It goes also into the pronunciation, I mean, literally. Let’s talk about QC. I mean, literally, he said, “Wakaenda.” It’s called “Wakanda.” And he says it throughout the movie. And so, again, extremely disruptive on many fronts. By the way, then, we know the next movie, the version two or part two is coming out on Friday. That will be, I’m really curious to see what happens there. And I really don’t wanna dedicate much time to an episode to talk about it. I really don’t. I really don’t wanna be here talking about it. I just wanna enjoy films and be immersed in it the same way everyone else is.
And AD is already sort of like a…it’s like a filter in a way. And we’re getting interpretation, to a certain extent, of the visuals from someone else. And when they are not culturally competent, when they do not respect that, I don’t think we should have to, I don’t think that should be something that we should have to deal with. And we talk about why. Cheryl, you talked about, you know, the person is on staff. And again, we talk about the definition of cultural competency and starting with the value, valuing difference, valuing diversity. And it goes into this conversation about disability. It goes into the conversation about intersectionality. Disability is not just white. Surprise! [laughs] It’s not. And so, there’s many different cultures. There’s many different people. And I think the audio description, like everything else, should reflect that. So, I wanna hear from some people. Do we have any one with their hand raised or whatever it is here?
THOMAS: Can we talk to some people? And again, I wanna make this clear. Nefertiti, Cheryl, and I, I think we’re pretty nice. We’re pretty respectful. I don’t think there’s ever been anything that I’ve heard from any of y’all or myself, at least, in my age now, that has [laughs], that has not necessarily been considered respectful. And so, if you are someone who does not value this, and you, or for whatever reason, you don’t think cultural competency is a big deal, if you’re perfectly fine with it…. Actually, I don’t necessarily wanna hear from you if you’re perfectly fine with it, unless you have something to say that is going to be like, give someone like myself an understanding of why this doesn’t matter.
NEFERTITI: Yeah. Give us something to think about.
THOMAS: I really would like to know that. But I don’t necessarily just wanna hear, I don’t, “Oh, it doesn’t matter to me.” Okay, then, bye! Like, if it doesn’t matter to you, that’s okay! That’s okay. But then you’re not really part of the discussion because it just doesn’t matter to you. But if you don’t think that this is something that should be any sort of a priority, it doesn’t, it shouldn’t be a part of the process, and you feel that way, then you should be able to articulate why. And I wanna hear from that person. I really do. And again, you got the same time as everybody else, and I’ll be respectful.
SCOTT N: Hi, everyone. My name’s Scott Nixon. I’m over in Australia. I’m an audio description connoisseur, advocate, hopefully soon to be a narrator, working on the process as we speak, and I love the idea of cultural competency. Okay, I am whiter than white, okay? I would burn if I stepped out in the sun for more than two seconds. But I love the fact that audio description, when done properly, contains the cultural competency. If I’m watching something like Black Panther or [In] the Heights or something like that, I want an African American or a Latina doing the audio description because it gives me a greater sense of depth and helps me connect to the story a lot more, rather than having just boring old white person doing something that they really shouldn’t be doing. So, for me, as, you know, as a Caucasian, I find the use of culturally appropriate audio describers to be a fantastic addition to any production. And for example, I’m going to see the new Black Panther sequel, Wakanda Forever this weekend. And you guys in America are gonna hear me scream all the way from Australia if they use who I think they’re going to use. I’m hoping that they’re gonna be fixing the problem from the first one, but I’m not too sure. So, yeah, that’s where I stand. And that’s me done speaking for now. Muting.
NEFERTITI: Thank you so much, Scott. Remember, you’re always welcome to come up. I will return you to a listener in just a minute. Hey, Stephanae. Welcome.
STEPHANAE: Hey, how are you?
NEFERTITI: Good. Am I saying your name correctly?
THOMAS: Hey, Steph!
STEPHANAE: Yes, you are!
NEFERTITI: Oh, thank goodness.
STEPHANAE: And you can call me Steph. Thomas knows me very well. Call me Steph.
THOMAS: How you doing, Steph?
STEPHANAE: I’m doing well, thank you.
STEPHANAE: First, I wanna thank you guys for having this conversation. I think it’s a very important one to have. I am not a voiceover actor or an AD professional. However, I am a consumer of and an advocate for it as I advocate for the disability community at large with a specific focus for blindness-related issues. For me—I’m gonna be really quick—for me, it boils down to representation. Thomas, the sample that you provide of Black Panther, I was so excited to watch that movie with audio description. I was just over the moon because everybody was talking about it, and I thought, “Oh, finally I’ll be able to enjoy this.” And I wasn’t prepared for the person who was doing it. Nothing against him. He, I’m sure, is a beautiful person, but for that particular film, it just didn’t work for me. It took me totally out of the experience. And not just the pronunciation of some of the words, but just the…it just didn’t feel real to me, and [laughs] I was annoyed.
And I guess the closest I can get to providing an example that really gives me a strong reaction is text-to-speech voices. I don’t like those voices. And especially if you have to listen to them day in and day out, the last thing you wanna do when you’re doing something that’s entertaining or you wanna consume entertainment is to listen to an automated voice. And that’s sort of what this was like for me, because it was almost, it wasn’t like he was robotic. I understood he was a human, but it just, I couldn’t, I couldn’t relate to it. It wasn’t relatable for me. And if I was to take it a little bit further and was watching the film and saw somebody who was a white British person acting in the film that was supposed to be a Black person, I think I would’ve been just totally taken aback, so—
THOMAS: You mean like Liz Taylor? Like Liz Taylor did? Is that what you…. [laughs] Sorry. Sorry.
STEPHANAE: [laughs] But those are just some of the things that come to my mind, and now I’m gonna hand the floor back over to you guys.
THOMAS: Thank you, Steph. Thank you, Steph.
NEFERTITI: Thank you for speaking. Definitely. That would be bizarre, right?
THOMAS: Well, it’s been done.
NEFERTITI: To have somebody playing something that they’re not, this day and age?
THOMAS: This day and age. Yeah, I’m glad you said that.
NEFERTITI: But why— Yeah, yeah. You know, so why not consciously cast the audio description too?
All right. We do wanna hear from folks who don’t agree with this or wanna know more about it or have doubts or what have you. So, please don’t be afraid to come up here. This is what discourse is all about. Let’s hear now from Cynthia! Hey! I know you.
CYNTHIA: Hey, Nef. Yes!
NEFERTITI: How’s it going?
CYNTHIA: It’s going really well.
NEFERTITI: Thanks for being here.
CYNTHIA: And congratulations on all of your successes. [coughs]
NEFERTITI: Aw, thanks.
CYNTHIA: I got so excited there I swallowed wrong. I don’t have a different viewpoint personally. I just kind of wanted to throw something out there that sort of came from some of my earlier classes, which was when the decision was made to cast a narrator, that sometimes…the casting person, whoever that is, decides specifically to look for someone of the same culture, of the same gender to fit in as you’re talking about. And that sometimes the decision is made to go completely opposite with the idea that it’s going to be somehow too confusing if the narrator sounds too much like the actors or someone that’s narrating not in the audio description realm. I don’t agree with that, but I wonder how the decisions get made to cast them because it’s not back when they’re making the film, and perhaps that’s when it should be made. What sounds, what sights, what are our intents in telling this story? And all of the people that are involved in bringing that story to life need to be on that same page.
THOMAS: Yeah. Thank you, Cynthia. Thank you. I’m glad you raised that, because the idea of, you know, like you said—and I get that—the idea of having sort of a contrasting voice, right?
THOMAS: And sometimes that really does, it can make sense, like the idea of perhaps you have a film that has, it’s all women, right? And so, you cast a male in that or vice versa. Sometimes that’s oh, that’s nice. It’s a change. It’s a little bit of a change, and it’s recognizable, and it just fits there. It’s a easier listen; it’s a comfortable listen. But I’m gonna go back to the idea of the definition of cultural competence. We’re not only valuing, but we also have an understanding of how cultures relate, right?
THOMAS: And so, let’s go to Black Panther, because when Steph was talking about that, something came up to me. And so, yes, it’s the words. It’s feeling disruptive. But let’s think about how cultures relate. A British white man. And I know Wakanda is not a real place. It’s based in, it’s a African country. But what is real is that Britain colonized much of Africa.
THOMAS: And so, for someone who has cultural competence would know that this film that is, again, very much an experience that is being pushed at Black people, and that’s fine. It’s fantastic. And Black people are very much like everyone else, right? I was really looking forward to what, let’s be honest, for Black people, this was an experience. Black folks were getting ready for this. This is beautiful Blackness, I like to say. And so, to make that decision, well, that tells you you don’t have cultural competence, right?
CYNTHIA: Agreed.
THOMAS: Yeah. So, that’s something that I think about. But you’re absolutely right. You asked. Like, contrasting can really, really make sense. And that does need to be a factor in the decision making when it comes to casting the narrator.
THOMAS: So, thank you for raising that. Thank you.
CYNTHIA: Thank you.
NEFERTITI: I’d also like to say, when it comes to a situation where like, “Oh, well, we bid for this project, and we’ve got some really qualified writers and narrators and such, but this is a ‘Black’ film say, but we don’t have any Black folks on staff,” does it not, is it not an option? I was gonna say, does it not occur? But is it not an option to cast out for talent that fits these particular categories, criteria, etc.? Maybe that’s a conversation for some other time or what have you. It would be great to have some providers join us at some point so we can get a better understanding as to how that works. As a company, you bid for a film, bid for a series, and you get it, but then you don’t have the corresponding talent. Why not cast out? Don’t tell me there aren’t any Black or brown talents out there. Thomas is here. I’m here. There are tons of us. There are a ton of us out there and other demographics too, right, that could fulfill these needs. Why isn’t that happening? And I’m not saying this to you, Cynthia. I’m saying this generally to the industry. Don’t tell me that these folks don’t exist and that you didn’t have them in your roster. That’s a problem in and of itself, don’t you think? Where’s the diversity in your roster of talent, things of that sort. So, yeah. I’m not one that really buys this idea of, you know, we don’t have these folks, we don’t, we didn’t know anybody kind of thing. So, I just wanna put that out there.
THOMAS: Let me piggyback off of that real quick, Nef.
THOMAS: Because, and I wanna keep going with the conversation, but I also wanna make the point that that’s where we started off the conversation in terms of what we as folks in the industry can actually do about that. And so, that’s where that pledge, the AD pledge comes into play. Because what I’m proposing is that if someone was to ask [chuckles], you know, ‘cause this works both ways. We’re focusing on POC, but it works every way. If someone was to come to me and say, “Thomas, I would love for you to do the narration for”–I don’t know–“the Riverdance,” I don’t know. I’m just thinking of something, right? And, you know, I’d be like, “Nah. I don’t think people would really like that,” you know? “I don’t think that would go over well.” “Thomas, okay, well, I want you to do this Asian movie.” “I don’t think that’s gonna go well. I think I’m gonna decline. But you know what? I think I know who can do that,” if I know.
THOMAS: So, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with us declining and being allies for one another and saying, “Hey, I’m not the right fit, but I know who is, or let me help you find it.” Or even just saying, “Hey, why don’t you go look for someone else?” if you can’t actually participate in the process, if you don’t know someone. But I think that’s up to us to actually say, “Hey, I’m not the right fit.” If we really believe, if we really believe that, if we really value diversity, going back to the definition.
NEFERTITI: 100%! And I’ve been asked to do Asian things too, which I’ve also turned down, Thomas.
THOMAS: Yeah, that’s a true story. Yeah, I was gonna say that was a true story for myself too.
NEFERTITI: Absolutely. All righty. Cynthia, thank you so much. You sound great! [chuckles] Okay. I’m gonna butcher this name, so please bear with me. Is it Montreece?
MONTREECE: It is Montreece!
NEFERTITI: Oh, excellent! Hi. Welcome.
MONTREECE: Yeah, hi. Thank you. Hi, Steph! I know you’re not even on the panel, but I heard your voice, and I’m like, “Ahhh! It’s Steph!” And hi, Thomas. We’re actually new connections, and it’s very nice to “virtually” meet you.
THOMAS: Same to you.
MONTREECE: Thank you all for this opportunity. I’ll make this as brief as I possibly can. I barely even need to speak because, Thomas, you actually hit on my exact point. I am one who, while I am an African-American woman, I have a lot of Asian family members. And because of that, I’ve always participated in all levels, or not all but many levels of Asian allyship and Asian-American allyship at that. And I have a connection here on LinkedIn. She is another DEI consultant who focuses on that specifically. Her name is Jolene Jang, and we were working, well, I was supporting a project that she was doing on name pronunciation. And the reason why I bring this up is because she made a tremendous case for the importance of saying Asian names properly. And the point that I’m getting to is there’s so much importance to identity and making sure that, when it comes down to it, how names are pronunciated, actually paying attention to that and honoring that and first and foremost asking questions. And so, I think that actually translates over into what you all are talking about in this conversation, and this highlights the importance of that. And there is no way I would be, I personally, I am not even an Asian American. I would be infuriated if I was listening to an audio description for an Asian movie, and I heard any of your voices. I would be infuriated.
THOMAS: [chuckles]
MONTREECE: And it’s just because I take that, I’m a person who takes that very seriously. I think you’re absolutely right. Yes, pass the buck. Pass it on. And to Steph’s point, representation absolutely matters. It’s that much more the reason why there’s a need for a diverse array of voices out there doing description. Because when it comes to our younger people, this is what they identify with.
THOMAS: Mmhmm.
MONTREECE: They find their identity in what is being narrated for them. And so, I hope that that makes sense. I really barely needed to say anything, though, because you really covered my point, Thomas, and thank you all so much.
THOMAS: No, thank you. You know, and just to emphasize that point, because yeah, audio description, you’re right. It does kinda bring that to light, so to speak. But, and I just wanna throw this out to Mr. Jimmy Kimmel, who likes to kind of butcher people’s names and think it’s funny. Like, it’s not funny. It’s not funny when you do that ‘cause that is someone’s, that’s a part of their identity. And I think he did that in one of those award shows or something, so. Yeah.
CHERYL: This is Cheryl. I wanna jump in also. Thank you, Montreece. And I wanna say I really liked what you said about “Ask questions.” Before you go and just pronounce all these names wrong, you can ask questions. And we’re talking a lot about cultural competency and sensitivity. And I’m also really big on the responsivity thing, which kinda comes from how you teach, how you would teach audio description. And that starts with asking questions and finding out about, you know…whether it’s what cultural knowledge and expertise the audio describer brings, or what is the expertise and the culture that the film is bringing? I just love that you brought up the questions because I think that’s at the heart of trying to achieve these things that we’re talking about. So, I’ll stop there.
NEFERTITI: Thank you, everyone. Gregg?
GREGG: Hi there. Can you hear me?
NEFERTITI: We can. Welcome!
GREGG: [delighted laugh] My name’s Gregg Stouffer. I’m coming at this from a little different perspective. I’m an editor, and I just fairly recently finished a documentary, and one of the producers on the documentary was Deaf. And she introduced me to the world of accessibility, and it’s actually been wonderful. One of the problems, though, is we had audio description done on the film, and unfortunately, when I’m editing the film, I’m taking out all of those little breaths [chuckles] and silences where audio description loves to live. So, I kind of painted my AD people into a corner, and so I wasn’t really happy with the results. Well, I’m now working on a, I shot a pilot for a cooking show, and I really want it to be…. Actually, the host of the show, her husband is Deaf, and I really want this to have accessibility baked in. I mean, that’s gonna, actually gonna be maybe part of the title. So, I want it to be organic to the process. And so, my closed captions are actually gonna be open captions, and I’m gonna creatively make those part of the visual look of it. But I also want to work with the audio description and figure out how to make all of this work together. So, I’m trying to plan it at this stage where I’ve shot it, but I need to edit it now. And all of those little moments of silence that I’ve taken out, I’d like to come up with a strategy for how to use AD in an effective way at the beginning, rather than wait till the end and make it an afterthought. So, I’m gonna stop talking, but I’m really hoping to get–I came tonight to listen for some–hopefully some pointers on how to make that happen in a meaningful way. And I’m done.
THOMAS: Excellent.
NEFERTITI: Well, let me just start by saying thank you so much for thinking about it. Even though you’ve already shot your footage and all that stuff, but you’re still at a point where you are thinking about this, which is something that we very much promote. Don’t let it be like a retrofitted mess, right? Do it meaningfully, do it with intention, do it with time. So, really happy to hear that. Thomas or Cheryl, any thoughts?
THOMAS: Yeah, I have a thought, and I have sort of a referral for Gregg. I think he should get in touch with the Social Audio Description Collective, quite honestly.
CHERYL and NEFERTITI: [enthusiastic imitation of air horns]
THOMAS: [laughs] Would someone like to give Gregg the website or a contact?
GREGG: Please.
NEFERTITI: Yes! You can find us— And hey, full disclosure, we three are part of the collective. So, just for full transparency. It is called the Social Audio Description Collective, and you can visit our website at Putting on my narrator voice. [laughs]
THOMAS: All of these topics are a specialty of the SADC, including disability.
NEFERTITI: Absolutely.
THOMAS: And so, I think it’s a perfect fit.
NEFERTITI: We pride ourselves on doing all of the sort of intersectionalities and areas that tend to be marginalized, etc. And we ourselves are folks who are LGBT, Black, brown, Asian, older, disabled, etc. We very much pride ourselves in not being your generic type of service.
THOMAS: Yeah, Nef, I don’t know who you calling older, though. I don’t know. [laughs] We gon have to talk that one! [laughs]
NEFERTITI: It’s okay. I’m getting old! And I’m proud of it.
THOMAS: Oh, yeah. I’m proud, but I’m just saying.
NEFERTITI: I’m so happy to still be here.
THOMAS: But you’re a young’un. You a young’un. [laughs]
CHERYL: She’s not talking about you, Thomas. She’s referring to RouRou, my cat Office Manager.
THOMAS: Ah! She talking about RouRou. She’s talking about the Office Manger? Oh, okay.
CHERYL: Yeah, mmhmm. Just him.
GREGG: Could you give that address one more time? I was scrambling for a pen. [chuckles]
NEFERTITI: Absolutely. Definitely. So, AD—like audio description—
GREGG: Thank you so much.
NEFERTITI: And also, feel free to follow any of us or connect with us on here. And we can—
THOMAS: Exactly.
NEFERTITI: —we’ll be happy to speak with you more about it. And if it doesn’t work for us or we don’t work for you, we’ll be happy to help you find someone or some company that does. We’re all about the access, you know? And congratulations on your documentary.
GREGG: Thank you.
NEFERTITI: Very cool.
FRANCES: Hi, guys. Thanks for having me in your discussion today. I’m also calling in from Australia. Hi, fellow Aussie, Scott, who was on before. And I wanted to give an Australian perspective from a much smaller pool than you guys are talking because we are in our relative infancy, I guess. I’ve been doing it for nearly 20 years here, but I was part of the pilot program to add AD to films in Australia, and there were like five of us. So, there are more of us now, but I’m in a business of one. And so, I wanted to bring in the horrible big C-word, the cost factor. Because when as someone mentioned earlier, I’m bidding for business, there’s quite a low bottom line here. I am not ashamed to say I’m a very low-paid worker, but I love what I do. And when I pitch for audio describing film or TV or other content, price is often the bottom line. So, I can offer services outside of my own by getting in contractors with more cultural competency in the areas of the film or the media being described, but the client is going to have to pay for that extra person, that extra input. And when given the option, they don’t wanna do that most of the time.
So, added to that, an extra problem is a very small pool of people to choose from. So, I’ve been in an amazing position this year in my capacity as a trainer where I’ve had access to people–particularly from Indigenous backgrounds–to training them up in audio description narration, and that’s been amazing. But I personally have described in the past many years many films and TV series with Indigenous content, and I’m not myself Indigenous. That’s partly been a factor of me being one of the only available audio describers, or as happened this year, being able to offer Indigenous voices for a project and having them knocked back either because in one case, this particular Indigenous voice artist didn’t sound Blackfella enough. In another case, because the person wasn’t available in a very tight window that was given. And what ended up happening was there was no audio description rather than using a voice that was non-Indigenous. So, I wanted to present that as well as something that may happen if there isn’t someone of the correct cultural competency for a project, it could be that nobody does it.
I wanted to throw that in and also to say that in the intervening years, as we build up our pool, and hopefully it’s gonna be as wide and varied very soon as the content that we need to audio describe, but I feel like I’ve given it my best shot in the intervening time to access other cultural competencies that I’m not privy to in order to do the best job that I can when I’m given a project. So, I’m of mixed race myself. I’ve got Lebanese, Irish, Scottish ancestry. I speak German. I speak Spanish. I’m a stickler for pronunciation and always have been to the extent that when I was training up some Indigenous voices this year, and we were voicing some Indigenous projects, and I was noticing discrepancies between how place names were pronounced within the program and how my Indigenous voice artists were pronouncing them, I had to flag that. Because as I’ve noted that you’ve all noted, that can be really frustrating hearing that difference between how a narrator and how someone in a program presents a name in particular. So, I’ve always been a stickler for that. And I personally feel like absolutely the ideal is everything you’re describing, but in the absence of that, I think me giving it my best shot in my own examples of my work is still better than radio silence. And I’m done.
NEFERTITI and THOMAS: Thank you, Frances.
NEFERTITI: How do we feel about that, gang?
THOMAS: I think that’s, I think Frances has some interesting points, and I think there’s a couple of things. Number one, I think it’s very— And she started off by saying it’s very specific to where she is and the things that she works on. And so, I can respect that. I’m gonna go back to the definition. And so–again, I’m not here to assign my value or my values to anyone–so I think as long as someone is comfortable with what you’re doing. And so, for example, you and I would probably disagree with the “not having cultural competent AD” versus “not having any AD at all.” As a person who, a consumer, I don’t, number one, I would not necessarily look at it like that, but I’m not sure if that would be, if I would be like mm. Like, so, for example, Black Panther. I don’t feel that I got the experience of Black Panther that makes me satisfied. So, if it was like, oh, I didn’t get to enjoy Black Panther with audio description, I’m being totally honest. I’m not sure if…yeah. I’m not sure if that, if I would weigh it like that or if I would be like, “Mm, I rather have it with this British white man.” I don’t think so. And that’s, for me, that’s personal. That’s personal. And that’s for everyone. That’s for each consumer. So, I would never say it like in a blanket statement where— Because we hear that with things like AI, right, with synthesized speech. “You have synthesized speech. That’s better than nothing.” No, not for a lot of people. We would just turn it off. We’re not gonna watch it and consume it. So, I would say the same for cultural competence.
But in terms of you doing the best you can, that’s fabulous. And it sounds like you would wanna continue to do the best you can. And so, the more people who are…the bigger the pool that you have access to, it sounds like you would make use of that pool, right? And so, if you’re actively working with people in the Indigenous community to sort of get them involved, that’s fabulous. I would say keep doing that. You can’t do anything about when someone says, “Oh, this person’s not Black enough.” “Oh, really? Who are you,” you know? So, that’s almost like a whole other conversation. But yeah, I guess we would disagree on that first thing, but I would definitely congratulate you, and I would urge you to continue to keep pushing for that, right? And I think that’s what we all need to do from wherever we are: Keep pushing for this.
NEFERTITI: 100%, you took the example right out of my brain/mouth, Thomas. Same argument with TTS. “Oh, it’s better than nothing.” And a lot of us don’t think so. It’s neither, for a lot of us, it’s not either/or. There are alternatives, which is don’t watch it. Don’t pay these streaming services for their service, you know. You don’t have to either/or. There are other options. Like, don’t settle for less.
All righty. Do we have Empish?
EMPISH: I wanted to put a little bit of a different twist on this conversation. I have been noticing that more and more audio description is culturally competent. And I’ve been really, I’ve been really happy about that. But audiobooks are another area where, you know, we had books that were by people of color, but yet a white person was reading the book to us. But now, with the big launch of commercial audiobooks, I’m seeing a lot more books now that have people from that particular culture or ethnic background actually reading the book. And I’m telling you, it makes a world of a difference when you read a book from a particular country or culture and a person from that, and a person from that country or what have you is reading the book. So, if people have concerns about it, pick up an audiobook, a commercial audio book and listen to that and see what a difference that it makes. And I’m gonna sign off ‘cause this phone [laughing] is getting on my nerves.
THOMAS: Empish, before you sign off, before you sign off, I’m curious. When you say, so, you find that more of the things that you’re watching are culturally competent? So, in terms of narrators, you’re finding more of them?
NEFERTITI: Yeah. Yeah, I am. I’m thinking the last movie I saw was the movie with Queen Latifah and Ludacris. I wanna say that one was available in a voice by a person that was African American.
THOMAS: Ah, that’s interesting.
EMPISH: I need to double check that. And then—
THOMAS: Yeah, I was gonna say, because I heard the opposite, and I don’t know. I never watched it.
EMPISH: You heard the opposite, okay.
THOMAS: I heard the opposite. And that’s what I’m—
THOMAS: And I know that there was one recently, Reasonable Doubt on Hulu, does not. It’s a Black film. It’s a Black show. White dude. Yeah.
EMPISH: Okay. I’ve gotta go ‘cause my VoiceOver keeps talking in my ear and it talks over. I can’t hear you guys.
THOMAS: Three-finger double tap! Three-finger double tap! [laughs]
NEFERTITI: Thank you for trying, for joining us.
EMPISH: I’m so sorry.
NEFERTITI: Take good care of. All right. Let’s hear from Alejandra. ¡Bienvenida! Welcome.
ALEJANDRA: Hello, friends. Can you hear me?
THOMAS: How you doing, Alejandra?
ALEJANDRA: Hi. I’m good.
ALEJANDRA: So, you three are my friends, and I hope to join the cool kids at the Social Audio Description Collective sometime soon. AD is right now taking a little bit of a backseat, but I do work as an AD worker, primarily community arts events here in New York City. And you would think the pool here would be bigger, but it isn’t. Very quickly, I’m glad that we played the clip from In the Heights. I actually had a direct conversation with that particular narrator who is lovely and talented and at a high level for high-skill work such as that. And I called them out on that particular thing, and they said that they did the best that they could with what they had, and they gave the best narration from their heart. Which, to me, spoke a little bit to what I would call a benevolent sort of ableism. I’m a disabled person, and I’m sensitive to those things. And I also was a little bit talked down. It was in a group that some of us are part of by…. You know, I’m a mostly sighted disabled person, but then I had some folks say, “Oh, it wasn’t that big a deal. It was fine.” I think it’s tricky because I feel like she could’ve gotten away with it if she had called a Spanish speaking friend and said, “How do you say ‘sueñito?’ And how do you say ‘Republica Dominicana’?” Like, she could’ve gotten away with it, you know?
I also end up in situations, as a describer at the community level, where I am both the scripter and the narrator, and the event or the thing is due in a very short amount of time. Or I tried to reach out my net to find someone else who might be a slightly better fit, and that doesn’t happen. So, my baseline for starting a job is always ask a thousand questions, which I have the latitude to do with community projects because I can be directly in touch with the directors or the dancers or whoever it is. And I say, “How do you want to be described?” And I ask all the questions exhaustively, and I don’t always get the answers. But I research the pronunciations, and I realize for larger-scale projects and for the division of narrator and whoever’s writing the script, that’s not always practical or possible.
But Frances’s points made me think about it because there are going to be situations where you are the available person. And I don’t wanna feel like I’m the same choice as TTS or nothing, but like Frances, I too am always doing my best to produce the best thing that I can. And I feel like folks at higher levels doing higher skill work, like whoever gets to AD something like In the Heights or Black Panther does have more latitude to say, “Hey, maybe this isn’t the right fit for me,” or, “Hey, maybe I should learn how to say the things I don’t know how to say.” I’ve also been in a position where I narrated a book where I was chosen because I’m a particular identity, but the book was a collection of work from people with a variety of identities. And you can bet that I bugged all the QC people at the publishing house to make sure that I was saying names correctly and have the authors please send me recordings or whatever it was, you know. So, it’s a weird space to be in, particularly when you’re a freelancer on a smaller scale doing community work.
THOMAS: Mmhmm.
ALEJANDRA: And I do wanna be better than TTS.
THOMAS: [chuckles]
ALEJANDRA: So, that is the hope. But I’m also trying to expand my pool so that I can do more referrals. But it’s harder than you would think, even in a city like New York. End of thought.
THOMAS: Well, you’re definitely better than TTS, okay? [laughs]
NEFERTITI: For sure. No comparison. Frances, also, you’re both lovely voices and I’m sure quite good at everything that you do.
THOMAS: Hey, Nef?
NEFERTITI: So, please don’t think that we were comparing you. What’s up, Thomas?
THOMAS: Because what Alejandra was saying made me think of a couple of things that I actually wanna, I wanna bring Cheryl in because if someone knows how much— Cheryl, talk about how much research goes into the writing of AD when someone, again, who values that stuff. I mean to me, that is not to be unexpected. But I guess because I come from, you know, I’m rocking with Cheryl.
CHERYL: [chuckles]
THOMAS: And Cheryl, talk about the amount of whatchamacallit research.
CHERYL: It’s a lot. And I would say ditto to what Alejandra said. I mean, yeah, I’m sending people a questionnaire and asking that the people who are in the film fill out the questionnaire themselves. If they are not available or don’t want to, then the filmmaker please fill it out. And that is to get all the vocabulary so that we are describing race, ethnicity, disability, gender, gender identity, like, just describing it in the words that are the best match for that person. But then, yeah, I’m going online, and I’m finding clips on YouTube. How is this person’s name pronounced? I’m sending emails to film directors all the time. “Okay, I finished. I need these 18 names from your credits. Send them in a voice memo.” And by the way, these are also Western European names that are unfamiliar to me and I don’t know how to pronounce. So, anything that I am unclear. And I’m asking them not just pronounce this name for me or write out what it rhymes with, but is this name Italian? Because if I know that, it’s gonna help me know how long this double-consonant’s gonna last. So, the research, yes, it goes on!
Gosh, one of the films I did for Superfest, I spent hours researching Brazilian architecture from the 1960s, both to understand the terminology around this architecture, but also to understand politically what was happening and culturally what was happening at the time that this architectural movement started. And who is the main architect who keeps coming up? It is a lot of research! And I do love to obsess and get interested and go down rabbit holes, so maybe I could get away with a little less research.
THOMAS: [laughs]
CHERYL: ‘Cause I just say, “Ooh! I’ll keep reading this.” But I do feel really responsible to not just, you know, call this, you know, “a one-story tan building,” but to say that it’s a brutalist; it is not just tan. Like, a brutalist architecture that means something. And I know I’m talking about buildings and not people, but same thing. Yeah. A lot of research because I really do care. And I’m freelance, so I’m eating the costs on that. I’m not hourly, so I can make that choice to spend the time doing that, where I don’t know what it’s like to work an hourly job in this field, if there are hourly jobs, and feel like you have to race through. I feel really lucky about that. I yield the floor.
THOMAS: Thank you. And the floor accepts your yielding. [laughs] So, nah, I mean—
NEFERTITI: I just wanna— Oh, sorry.
THOMAS: Go ahead.
NEFERTITI: No, go ahead, Thomas. I’ll speak after you.
THOMAS: Nah, I was just gonna say, I guess the point that I think we’re making is that, like, really, research is a part of the process. It shouldn’t be thought of as extra. And maybe again, like Cheryl said, maybe Cheryl goes, she goes in. But some real basic research can go a long way and should just be considered part of the process. Nef?
NEFERTITI: 100%. And pronunciation, super important. Come on.
I just wanna say someone named StormMiguel Florez, I’ve been inviting you up since, mm, for about 10 minutes now. And I’m not sure what’s going on, but I’m not, I just want you to know that I’m not skipping you. But you’re not coming up in spite of me.
CHERYL: No, he’s there now! He’s there now! StormMiguel!!!
NEFERTITI: Oh, great! Okay, you made it. Well, then go ahead. Welcome. [pause] Unmuted?
CHERYL: Still muted, but with a lovely profile picture snuggling a tiny, tiny dog that kind of might be part bat.
THOMAS: [chuckles]
NEFERTITI: [gasps] What a description. Part bat! All right. [laughs] Amazing. Well, I’ll tell you what. You’ve made it up onto the stage or whatever it’s called here on LinkedIn Audio, so half the battle is won. We’ll give you a few seconds to unmute. If we don’t hear from you, let’s move on to Scott Blanks. And we will try you again after Scott is done speaking. [pause]
SCOTT B: I think that’s my cue. Yeah?
NEFERTITI: All righty. Go ahead, Scott. Yeah. We’re just giving Storm a few minutes or seconds.
SCOTT B: All right. Now, I’m curious. I really want Cheryl to research what kind of dog it is now. [laughs]
NEFERTITI: [chuckles]
CHERYL: I’m on it.
SCOTT N: Yeah, I kinda thought you might be. So, just a couple of brief points. My name is Scott Blanks. I am co-founder of the Audio Description LinkedIn Group and Twitter Community for Audio Description as well. If you haven’t joined us, please do. If you have questions about how to find them, you can contact me or Nefertiti. When I think about culturally competent audio description, I often think about in film and TV, unfortunately, we used to as a society, it was accepted that white people would play Black people. They would do it in blackface. They would play Native Americans. They would play just about anybody in America’s Hollywood at a point in time. And that changed. And we’ve heard about the audio books where there used to be a homogenous sound, and that is changing. I’m confident in saying that even when there are these scenarios, like what legitimately people like Frances have brought up, where there aren’t, there haven’t been the right people, my confidence is high that those people are out there. They always are. Whenever these kinds of things evolve, there’s not a question of there being enough people. They can be found. And so, I’m certain that there are always going to be plenty of people of every stripe to bring their voices or talents to the audio description field. And it will be a matter of for–and I should caveat this by saying I’m thinking about, in particular, when we talk about entertainment, when we talk about at a more of a kind of a mainstream, big movie-studio streaming service and the like–they have the resources to make this culturally competent audio description a reality. And I believe that if it doesn’t happen, it happens because they have made a choice not to make that effort. And I know the dynamic is different for people working as independent filmmakers or in other spaces, so I just wanna make that caveat.
And the last thing I wanna say is there are a number of examples where I concur with a couple of folks who’ve spoken earlier that audio description that is not culturally sensitive is, in my mind, I agree. It’s not necessarily better than nothing at all. This is not a cultural issue, but I will just share one thing. For example, there’s a little show called Breaking Bad that came out in 2008, ‘09, ‘10, whatever it was. No audio description at the time. And there wasn’t necessarily, I don’t think, an opportunity for that to have happened. But it didn’t, and what happened later? Well, it was picked up when it moved to a streaming service, and audio description was sought by that streamer. And it was provided by a quality company, Descriptive Video Works, a wonderful team of folks, including narrator Dianne Newman, who did a great job. Had that show been described initially with someone who maybe wasn’t a good fit or using text to speech audio description, the likelihood of it being redone and getting Dianne’s amazing treatment and DVW’s wonderful take on that would’ve gone way down. So, I think there is, it doesn’t have to be an either/or decision. And I think things look bright. I really do think things look bright moving in this space positively. And it’s really great to see all these people coming out and listening to this tonight. So, thank you all for having the panel. I’m done speaking.
NEFERTITI: Yeah. Thank you for speaking, Scott. Do we have anything to say?
THOMAS: No, I think Scott’s on point. Scott’s on point.
NEFERTITI: Yeah, I agree. I agree.
NEFERTITI: All right. Oh, go ahead.
THOMAS: No, no. I mean, I just wanna, you know, I appreciate the ideas, even though if I don’t agree with certain things, I really do appreciate it. So, I wanna thank those who had some additional ideas and things to consider for throwing them out there. So, all points of view are valid.
NEFERTITI: Absolutely.
THOMAS: Well, you know what? That’s not always true. I’m sorry. ‘Cause there might be a point of view [laughs] that might not be valid! I’m just gonna say it. Let’s be real. Okay? When somebody is like, “Ah! F that! F this person!” That’s not valid. So, I’m not gonna make that, yeah, blanket statement.
NEFERTITI: Or “I think it’s this way because,” and then there’s no intelligent follow up or what have you.
NEFERTITI: I mean, again, we wanna have that discourse. We want to be exposed to other perspectives ‘cause there may be things we’re not considering.
THOMAS: Talking about being exposed. I’m thinking about storms, like, you know, when you’re outside. What’s up with Storm?! [laughs]
CHERYL: Yes! StormMiguel!!! Hey!
STORM: Hey! I could not come up earlier.
THOMAS: [laughs]
STORM: Thank you. Hi, everybody.
NEFERTITI: Hey. Welcome. Glad you’re with us. [chuckles]
STORM: I’m so glad to be here. Hi, Cheryl. I know about this because of Cheryl, also. Thank you for sharing this with me. And I just, I love what everybody’s saying. And I love what Alejandra and Cheryl, they were talking about research from the AD side. I’m a filmmaker. And so, I think it’s we have to do research, too. We have to do research into how, or whether we’re doing a documentary or a narrative, how our actors or subjects, for lack of a better word, describe themselves, right? I think that there are ways that some people describe themselves that are really important to them. I know people that want to be described as fat if they are fat. I know people that, you know, there’s certain pronouns that we use that are really important. We want our skin tone to be described maybe. So, these are things that I think are also something to think about. You know, trans and non-binary competency are really important. If maybe there’s a film that’s multicultural and has different elements of race and ethnicity and queerness and transness, and I think in those cases, finding people who are competent and doing, as a director, communicating that, right? I wanna make sure that whoever describes this cares enough about it to have these conversations with me, to ask me questions when they’re unsure of something, and that I offer as much information as I can as a filmmaker.
And saying that, I feel like I just, I want so badly for filmmakers, independent filmmakers, to be thinking about this not as an afterthought, but to be putting it into our budget when we first start, right? That this is just as important as having good sound and good color. And I’m new. I’ve had my last two films have been audio described, probably not ideal, probably not completely competent in the way that I would have liked them to have been. But I love what I’m learning today so that I can do better next time. But yeah, I just, I wanna figure out how to get these conversations. I’m also a festival programmer, so I wanna figure out how to get these conversations in festivals as panels because it starts with the filmmakers. Once enough filmmakers are having audio description, then we can start pressuring festivals to make sure that it’s provided at the festivals. So, those are some of the things I’m thinking of. I think about this a lot! [laughs] So, I’m really glad to have this platform and to hear everything that everybody’s saying. I’m learning so much. And I am done talking. Thank you.
THOMAS: Hey, Storm, before you pull out.
STORM: Mmhmm?
THOMAS: So, what’s your films? Where can somebody check out your films?
STORM: Oh, thanks. So, I have a film called The Whistle. It is a documentary. It’s about lesbian youth culture in Albuquerque, New Mexico in the ‘70s and ‘80s, and you can find it on The audio description of that is really sparse because I think it’s just so dialogue heavy. The film is so dialogue heavy.
THOMAS: Yeah, yeah.
STORM: So, but it’s there and maybe hopefully, enough of the dialogue explains what’s going on, or it holds the interest. I do have a blind friend who really, who said she really loved the movie. She’s also of the community that the film is about.
THOMAS: Mmhmm.
STORM: And the other one is called Vulveeta, and it’s on the festival circuit now.
STORM: And it’s a mockumentary. Thanks.
THOMAS: Very cool, no.
CHERYL: I also wanna jump in, StormMiguel, ‘cause you were talking about the research that the filmmaker needs to do. And that is such a beautiful bridge to something that Thomas and Nefertiti and I always talk about, and I know a lot of people who are here and not here talk about, which is the audio description can be looked at as part of the art, right? You said let’s not have it as this add-on at the end. We talked about research for the audio describer. You talk about research for the filmmaker. There you go. There are so many—and talking about casting—there are so many ways that we can use the same vocabulary to talk about the same process we have, because the AD is part of the art. And I happen to know that your closed captions, you do the same thing. You research, you get the words right, you make sure you check that you’re getting the words right rather than just like, I don’t know, “music, music playing, music ends, car sounds,” you know. I know you’re super careful with it because you value that…. You value that. So, I will stop there. And I will also say I did, I said I had one job, which was to let speakers up, which I don’t have controls. My other job is timekeeper. We have six minutes left. Just throwing that out there, and that’s it for me.
NEFERTITI: Thank you! Yeah. So, Scott Nixon, you’re back up, and we will end with you. So, go for it.
SCOTT N: Well, that’s a very great pleasure. I would like to firstly thank everybody for being involved today. I forgot to mention earlier that I am a co-moderator on the Twitter Audio Description Community. For more information about that, Nefertiti or Scott Blanks would probably be the people to talk to. And please, people, don’t give up on Twitter yet. Every empire must fall eventually.
Now, I just wanted to say two very quick things. Firstly, Frances, things in Australian audio description are about to explode. Government is looking to legislate audio description on commercial TV in Australia at long last. So, things are going to get better. Hopefully there’s gonna be more money out there for us to start doing quality and competent AD in all sorts of areas. So, just hold on for more information on that.
And just quickly rolling back to a couple of the points that Thomas made, redressing problems within cultural competency of audio description, I have a very brief story. I’ll have to speak in very vague terms ‘cause I can’t name any companies or anything like that. An audio description was produced for an Australian program, and the producer from the American company who did the audio description chose an American narrator to audio describe an Australian program, possibly the most jarring audio description I have ever heard, hearing all these Aussie accents and then this very deep, thick American accent doing the audio description. The director of the audio description company on finding this out was horrified that cultural competency wasn’t followed and desperately wanted to re-record with an Australian narrator. The problem is with the majority of the streaming services in particular, once the AD’s done, that’s it. They don’t wanna worry about it. They don’t wanna care about it anymore. It’s there. It’s done. They’re not gonna look at it. They’re not gonna get it redone, anything like that.
The only situation where there is AD re-record is when things are done so badly that it’s virtually unlistenable. It’s only happened once or twice before because audio description companies, when they–even when they themselves explain to the streamers that they have had a problem–they get a strike against them. And it’s a kind of like three-strikes-you’re-out system kind of thing where, if they make enough mistakes, they are delisted as an audio description provider. So, it’s a double-edged sword. So, we have to get the competency in from the very start, from the beginning and make sure that it’s there for everybody moving forward. That’s me, done. I’d just like to quickly say, gross self-promotion, please follow me on Twitter @MrBrokenEyes and also #ADReviews and #BrokenEyesVA. Thank you and goodnight!
NEFERTITI: Thank you, Scott. Something I wanna quickly mention here. I believe it was Scott Blanks, but what you just said, Scott Nixon, brought it back to the forefront of my mind, which is this idea that directors and filmmakers and big film networks and streaming services and studios, etc., have a say in audio description. It’s been my experience that most of these folks have no idea, and even when they do, they often don’t care enough to play an active role in casting, consciously casting for the audio description, be it the writer, the narrator. They barely even pay attention to quality control, etc. So, I think they can afford to do this, not that it’s right, in my opinion, but I think they can afford to do this because audio description is very often a third-party thing, right? The studios hire a company like a DVW, an IDC, etc., and then they, it is up to them to do the casting and all that stuff. So, to say that film studios, etc. should play an active role in this, absolutely 100%. But that’s not how the system is set up as of right now. So, I think the onus is on these companies, and I think that’s where we need to apply pressure whenever possible, when there’s something so egregious, like what you said, Scott Nixon.
SCOTT N: Yes. If I could just jump in for just one more second and give a perfect example of that. A company did an audio description for a program. It was incredibly successful, one of the best audio descriptions out there. Another series very similar to that one was being produced. The audio description company reached out to the production house and said, “Hey, we would like to do the audio description for this programing. This is very much like the one we did, and we had a lot of success.” And the company, the production company, turned around to them and literally said, “Eh, don’t worry about it. We’ll just get the company who do the captions to do the AD.” And it turned out to be one of the most disappointing audio description pieces of that particular year: jarring, terrible, wrong voice, whole thing. So, the companies need to be pretty much dragged up by the collar. And you look them in the face and say, “Do you like money? Do you like to make money? If you do this right, people will give you more money.” That’s pretty much how we have to handle the situation sometimes.
NEFERTITI: That is for a lot of them the bottom line. I agree with you. But this is where advocacy comes in and allyship and all that good stuff.
And we are now officially over, folks. So, thank you so much for being here. Cheryl, Thomas, any last thoughts?
THOMAS: Yeah, my only last thought is to let folks know this is, you know, these conversations, whether they’re here on LinkedIn—and we appreciate everybody coming out—whether they’re on Twitter, they’re gonna continue, because there’s a lot of things happening with audio description, whether they be this, whether it be blind people getting involved in audio description and all the fuss that seems to be around that and the disbelief apparently that blind people can actually do this work….
NEFERTITI: And do it well.
THOMAS: And do it well. And synthetic speech, that’s a really big one, and all of the implications that that has. And so, I’m just gonna end with what I always say, Nef. Audio description is about much more than entertainment. And if you think it’s just about a movie, just about a film, just about a Broadway show, you are absolutely incorrect. That’s it. I’m done speaking. [laughs]
NEFERTITI: 100! Cheryl, any last thoughts?
CHERYL: No, I can’t. The mic was already dropped, so I cannot speak anymore.
NEFERTITI: [laughs] All right.
THOMAS: Well, I got one last thing for all of us, though, for everybody here tonight. [air horn blasts]
CHERYL: [imitates air horn]
NEFERTITI: Are you listening? Are you out there listening? Whenever we get this recording out [air horn blasts] to the masses.
THOMAS: [laughs]
NEFERTITI: Thank you so much for wanting to learn, for speaking up, for reaching out. Cheryl and Thomas and I are available on Twitter, on LinkedIn. Our email addresses are out there. Thomas’s podcast, Read My Mind Radio, R to the E I D!
THOMAS: [laughs]
NEFERTITI: Like his last name, y’all!
THOMAS: Thank you, Nef.
NEFERTITI: And Cheryl. Cheryl has a fun podcast, too. Can I announce it, Cheryl, can I talk about it?
CHERYL: [laughing] Sure!
NEFERTITI: [laughs] Pigeonhole! Pigeonhole! What is it? “Don’t sit where society puts you”?
CHERYL: I think so. I don’t remember! I’m all embarrassed.
NEFERTITI: I love that! That’s right, y’all. So, thank you again so much. This has been a pleasure. We really hope you go away with things to think about or things to implement. And we’ll catch you next time. We will try to be back with another interesting topic. And tell your friends. All righty. Thank you so much, everybody. Good night!
THOMAS: Peace.

THOMAS: Cool. Well, that concludes this week’s conversation. Why don’t y’all keep the conversation going on social media.
CHERYL: Use #ADFUBU, for us by us, #DescribeEverything, and #AudioDescription.
NEFERTITI: And hey, you know we’re out here, right? Mmhmm! Gathered and galvanized y’all. If you haven’t joined us yet, what are you waiting for?! You can find us in the LinkedIn Audio Description group and the AD Twitter community. We know that your participation will only make these spaces better.
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