Posts Tagged ‘Cultural Competence’

Black Art White Voices: A Flipping the Script Prequel

Wednesday, June 1st, 2022

A row of yellow light bulbs against a red horizontal border above and below the white movie screen. You are invited to REID MY MIND RADIO ENTERTAINMENT under the red frame. Black Art/White Voices: Flipping the script prequel on the following line in Bold Black capital letters. The picture is of a theater with red velvet chairs facing a white screen with movie images of Black panther, Insecure, Judas, and the black Messiah showing an all-black cast. There are two pictures of a blurry white man and a blurry white woman underneath the movie images.

Ever since producing the episode on Black Panther where among several critiques about the audio description, I voiced my complaint about using white narrators to voice what are obviously Black films. In general, AD narrators that are not from the culture of the film, where it’s obviously culturally specific, feels extremely disruptive and insensitive.

There’s been a significant amount of discussion on this topic here and elsewhere. It’s something I was hoping to see the Audio Description industry improve. To some extent that is the case, but when I finally sat down to watch Judas and the Black Messiah, a film about the FBI’s murder of Fred Hampton – Chairman of the Illinois Black Panther Party, I couldn’t believe what I heard.

Black Panther? It’s starting to feel like a conspiracy… Here we go again!

Plus:
* Hear how you can help make a change
* Here about the next season; Flipping the Script on Audio Description.
* PodAccess Survey – If you’re a Deaf/Disabled Podcaster or content creator or a consumer of Deaf/Disabled content, you’re going to want to know about this.

Listen

Transcript

Show the transcript

TR:

Music begins, a pulsating ominous synth that opens up to a dramatic mid-tempo beat.

TR:

What’s up Reid My Mind Radio?

We’re in between seasons but I wanted to share some thoughts with the family.

Truth is, I wish I didn’t feel obligated to share these thoughts on this particular subject.
I’m hoping one day it won’t be necessary.

Several years ago now, I produced this episode that has really sort of attached itself to me.
It’s the Black Panther episode.
The episode I almost threw away. I didn’t think anyone would care.
I published it anyway.

People cared!

I think.

I’m just ready to move past it.
Meaning, I would love to see those who say they understand and support the need for Audio description to be more culturally aware and competent, put it into practice.

but, it’s like…
Audio sample: “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.” From The Godfather.

— Reid My Mind Radio Intro Music

Sounds of a thunder and rain storm.

TR:

I don’t believe in conspiracy theories.

— Thunder clap

At least that’s how I felt before the phone call.

A day, I’ll never forget.
It was a Thursday.
Damn, it could’ve been Friday.
Either way… I don’t normally answer calls from unknown numbers.
Yet, this one evening, my cell phone rang and Voice Over told me to answer the phone.
Yo! That freaked me out.

Then, I realized after answering the phone that I heard it wrong.
The caller id really said Ann Sur Fonne. I think it’s French.

Wherever she’s from, she called to tell me a bit about the AD Illuminati.

— Thunder clap!

Well, sort of…

This mysterious phone call came on the same day my daughter Riana and I finally had the chance to sit together and watch Judas and the Black Messiah.

It’s a film that explores the FBI’s murder of Fred Hampton. The 21 year old Chairman of the Illinois Black Panther Party who was in the midst of uniting black and other organizations focusing on advancing rights and opportunities for Black, brown and other marginalized people.

The movie was first released in February 21 both in theaters and on HBOMax. I’m not certain about the theater release, but I do know that HBO Max did not yet provide audio description. My daughter refused to watch the film until it had AD and she could watch with her Dad. That’s me y’all!

It wasn’t until sometime during the summer of 2021 that the film received an audio description track on HBO.

Almost a year since its release, January 1, 2022, Riana and I sat down to watch the film.

As far as the movie goes, the two stars, Daniel Kaluuya and Lakeith Stanfield, playing Chairman Fred Hampton and the sell out under cover Bill O’Neil respectively, were both amazing.

It’s never easy to just watch a movie like this as if it were just a story. It’s not. It’s a reminder of a not so distant history a sobering acknowledgment that those in power won’t hesitate to kill when their way of life is threatened.

History shows, that’s often, when Black people are seeking their freedom, standing up for their rights and when there’s a hint of creating a unified front that challenges the establishment.

In 2018, I published an episode that focused on my response to the audio description in Marvel’s Black panther. If you never heard that, I’ll provide a link and hope you’ll take a listen. In summary, I discuss my reaction to the selected narrator. The episode actually goes into much more, but that’s often what’s recalled. I refer to the narrator as the voice of the colonizer – a British white man.

Unlike Marvel’s Black Panther, Judas and the Black Messiah doesn’t originate or belong to the MCU or the Marvel Comic Universe. This story is real. It belongs to us, this is the Black People’s Black Panthers.

I found it pretty ironic that , once again a film featuring a Black Panther is described by a British sounding white man.

— A mix of movie scenes with a dramatic “No” Including “Back to the Future” and “Independence Day”.

I always feel obligated to say, I have nothing against this person as an individual, he’s probably a nice guy.

Truth is, I really don’t have to. This isn’t about one person. It’s about an entire community of people being overlooked.

Anyone choosing to focus on individuals should really ask themselves if they’re really trying to deflect and avoid the real conversation.

— Cell Phone ringing

Not long after my daughter and I finished our post film review and conversation, my cell phone rang.

Yeah, that’s really the ring tone I use. I guess I’m nostalgic for telephones with actual bells on them.

Voice Over saying Ann Sur Fonne!

So I just had to pick it up.

TR in Conversation Flashback::
Hello? (Says hesitantly)

Ann:
What did you think of the AD?

TR in Conversation Flashback:
Excuse me?

Ann:
What did you think of the AD?

TR in Conversation Flashback:
Who’s this?

Ann:
I’m sorry Thomas, this is Ann Sur Fonne, you don’t know me… (Continues talking but fades down to an unintelligible murmur, with narration taking over)

TR:

She went on to explain she’s been listening, watching and reading the things that I and others have been talking about audio description and the need for more inclusion and proper representation of voices in all films especially those that are culturally specific.

She wouldn’t say exactly what power she had but she said she’s on the inside and wants to see change.

Ann:
Have you heard of the AD Illuminati?

TR in Conversation Flashback:
I have but always just thought that was a joke. I thought it referred to [beep]

Ann:
Thomas, whatever you do you can’t say those names out loud or use on your podcast. Your life is in danger if you do.

TR in Conversation Flashback:
What the heck! It’s audio description.

Ann:
Thomas, you said it before and made a damn t-shirt, it’s about more than entertainment.

TR:
Ann talked a bit more. Each time I tried to get more information or even some hint of why using Black voices in films about Black people is an issue, she’d just talk about how much she likes the podcast.

Ann:
I really like your podcast.

TR in Conversation Flashback:
Oh, thank you! Continues talking but fades out and narration over takes it.

TR:

I really need to work on not being easily distracted.

I did get to ask her if there’s any specific connection to Black Panther? I mean

I can’t tell you is all she’d say. Continue to be aware, pay attention and look beyond what you see. I reminded her I’m Blind. We laughed.

Ann:
But seriously, continue to be observant. There are things happening and people claiming they care and want to see change. But as you know now, the AD Illuminati is real and right now, their goals don’t align with yours.

TR in Conversation Flashback:
What exactly are their goals?

Ann:
Nice try Tomas, but I’m already risking my life calling you. I’ll be in touch when I can. Whenever you hear your phone say Ann Sur Fonne make sure you answer. No matter the time of day or night.
Goodbye.

TR:

And that was it, she was gone.

I didn’t mention this to anyone for a day or so because I was just shook.
I finally decided to tell my wife. She just stared at me. I took my phone out to show her my call history.

There was no record of the call.

“I didn’t dream it! I didn’t dream it!” I muttered to myself as I walked off to be alone.

Classic Radio Announcer:
“We interrupt this program for a special news announcement”

Hi, I’m Cheryl Green
And I’m Thomas Reid

Cheryl: That… wait, you don’t look like Cheryl Green.

Thomas: What do you mean?

Cheryl: Well, I mean Cheryl she’s got hair on her head, kinda curly medium length brown hair and she’s got black framed glasses and olive skin.

Thomas: Ok, now that you say that, you don’t sound like Thomas Reid. I think he’s a brown skin Black man with a shaven head and where’s shades and has a full beard and might be wearing like a Wu Tang Clan t-shirt or something like that.

Cheryl: But, we’re both disabled podcasters.

Thomas: Do you think we should say podcasters with disabilities?
Cheryl: – Oh oh, you know, let’s do a podcast about that.
Thomas: Mm! Good idea!

Cheryl: Actually, Thomas and I are working on a project that’s all about disabled podcasts…
It’s called… Oh wait, well, we don’t actually have a name just yet so we’re calling it… oh wait, we don’t actually have the name yet. What should we call it?

Thomas: We should call it, project, project!

Cheryl: Yeh, I love it! Project, Project or like I don’t know, PODAccess.

Thomas: Ok, we’ll go with PodAccess, for now.
With funding from the Disability Visibility Project we’re creating a space for disabled podcasters or
content creators to
Connect with each other, maybe be discovered by audiences interested in your content or share skills and resources

Cheryl: So we want to hear from you…
Current or former Deaf or Disabled podcasters, Deaf or Disabled people interested in starting a podcast or consumers of content about disability or Deafness.

Thomas: We’ve created a survey, that should only take about 20 minutes to complete and we’d really love your feedback.

Cheryl: You can find the survey at https://bit.ly/PODAccess
On that survey you can sign up to receive more information about
Project Project as it develops.

Thomas: Again, fill out the survey at http://bit.ly/PODAccess

Cheryl: Ah, nice job Cheryl!
Thomas: Ah, , you too Thomas! (Laughs)

Classic Radio Announcer: Now back to our show.

TR:
I needed something light to take my mind off this for a while.

I decided to watch the final season of Insecure also on HBO Max.

— Music begins, an anxious melody that continues of a mid-tempo Hip Hop beat. Hip hop

HBO did not provide description for their shows until 2021.

prior to this final season, Blind folks interested in watching Insecure with audio description would need to find an alternative way of accessing the series. Allegedly available somewhere.

If you’re not familiar with issa rae’s Insecure, according to her the show “examines “the complexities of ‘Blackness’ and the reality that you can’t escape being Black.”

While the show is a “black show” it’s characters and subject is universal and relatable.

Sort of like what people with disabilities like to think about disabled content. But you know many non-disabled hear that word and are like oh, that’s not for me!

Similarly, white disabled can hear black and disabled and say, oh boy that’s not for me.

Anyway! Humanity, right?

Insecure is a well done series. Young black people just living their lives searching and figuring out who they are and where they want to go. From Black law firms to the streets , all sorts of Black.

Well, guess what wasn’t Black?
That’s right! The audio description narrator.

And here’s where it gets tricky for me personally. I like and know the narrator. She’s been on the podcast y’all. That makes her Reid My Mind Radio Family!

Let’s be clear, I’m not trying to put people on blast or shame someone for their decisions. To return to the Godfather for a second…
“It’s not personal Sonny, It’s strictly business.”

That being the case, I won’t drop manes, but feel free to look it up. In fact, go ahead and watch the show, it’s entertaining and I support Black content creators.

I really wanted to call Ann Sur Fonne. I wanted to ask her what could be done about this. Does this at all relate to the AD Illuminati?

No need. I’m sure she’d be vague or even worse tell me how much she likes the podcast to distract me.

I really do need to stop falling for that one.

She did encourage me to continue to speak on it and suggested I do the same for others.

So that’s what I’m doing.

Is there really an AD Illuminati?

Is all of this part of some conspiracy?

I believe that those in charge are doing what they know. I recognize that it’s not malicious or done with bad intentions. Folks have jobs to do and deadlines to meet and all sorts of limited resources.

This has been the way it’s been done for years. It goes back to the early decision makers in audio description. They did great things, but they also bear responsibility for where we are today. They chose to not see color. They chose not to seek out culturally appropriate voices. They taught and some still teach the newbies. Has the curriculum been updated or is it the same ol’ thing. You know, that good Ol’ AD!?

I know for many, this isn’t a big deal, in comparison to other issues of injustice or representation. But I disagree! I think it’s just another one. One that will never grab the attention of the mainstream.
It’s black and disabled.

What they don’t see are the core elements that make up the other injustices;
White supremacy
Systemic racism
Ableism, It’s for the Blind so they’ll be happy with whatever we give them.

Ouch!

Yes, hard to hear? Well, it’s not easy to say.

Music begins, an optimistic, bouncy Hip Hop groove.

I offered some possible solutions in the Black Panther episode from 2018.

One worth repeating is seeing the selection of narrator as a casting choice and therefore a responsibility of the director and production team.

If content creators were more aware and involved in the audio description process, I don’t believe we’d have as many of these issues.

I don’t think Issa Rae is aware of the voice providing audio description narration for her show.

, when asked on the red carpet of an award show who she was rooting for, famously and unapologetically proclaimed;

Issa Rae: “Everybody Black. I am. Betting on Black tonight!”

Here’s another consideration for addressing this issue. Individual responsibility.

It’s not just the narrator, audio description is a team sport. No matter where you fall within the audio description life cycle, you play a role.

As I am aware of the process today, broadcasters who commission the AD track have the majority of the power. They are the true shot callers. They dictate what they want the script to look like and the type of voice they want to hear.

AD Directors, Managers, decision makers in general, it’s time to retire the excuses;
“we don’t have anyone on our team.”
“We had such a tight deadline to produce this track”
“We don’t know where to find qualified talent”
All of these excuses just represent the problem. It’s time for you to expand your network, recruit talent and be aware and prepared.

I’ve seen people find qualified voice talent … open your networks, they’re out here.

AD professionals, you have a choice.
If you’re aware of the inequity and say you want to see the change, well, recognize your power.

Narrators!

I find it really hard to believe that you don’t recognize when you’re not right for the project. Rather than finding a way to personally justify that with yourself, why not use your influence to suggest that someone else is hired for the position? Perhaps it’s someone you know and recommend, but in general, speaking up about the subject, being an ally, well that’s powerful.

— “You will not replace us” Chants of Alt Right Mob.
TR:

Is this call for equitable representation threatening?

When it comes to the voice of the narrator on films that are culturally specific, we’re talking about a small piece of the pie. The total number of films and television shows that are focused on BIPOC stories is still a fraction of the total films made today.

White narrators get plenty of work. I don’t see any reason for them to feel threatened by these comments.

This issue is just one part of a much bigger problem.
It goes beyond films like Black Panther or In the Heights. Shows like Insecure. It goes beyond the voice. It’s about the visibility of Black and other people of color

That’s seeing and acknowledging color on screen and stage. It’s recognizing that Blind and Low Vision includes people of color.

Writers!

If you’re assigned to a project, recognize your limitations and ask for help, seek the proper input or suggest that you’re not right for the job.

We don’t need color blind writers.

No silly, I’m not talking about those who can’t see red green or blue, but rather black and brown.

It’s one thing to see Black and brown people when we’re in the majority. At that point, I guess you can’t help it, right?

What about the other films that have a so called diverse cast and include BIPOC characters. The lack of audio description erases them from the Blind consumers screen; rendering people of color invisible.

For Black people and others of color, striving to be seen, heard and in general represented takes place in all aspects of life. What we experience in audio description isn’t unique, it’s a part of that systemic problem that persists throughout society. We can’t wait for it to be resolved outside of audio description and then trickle down. Why not do what we can to address these underlying issues that we’ve all inherited. At the very least acknowledge their existence and commit to doing better.

That’s what this episode is all about today. Doing better…

Music begins, a dramatic piano riff leads into a strong steady beat.

I reached out to some people who I know feel strongly about this issue. Audio description providers who already commit to this idea fully. The Social Audio Description Team who I featured here on the podcast last year.

Together, we’re drafting a pledge that we will invite everyone to sign. That is, everyone who believes in making audio description a representative, equitable and fair space. Those who want to truly see the world in all of its beautiful identities, shapes, sizes, abilities, ….

Do I think a pledge will resolve this? Not necessarily. Right now, I’m interested in eliminating the excuses. We’re in 2022, if you’re not interested in the proper representation of people of color then be firm in your stance and say that.

Don’t tell the community you’re for something while your actions say otherwise.

If you’re in support, raise your volume. I’m talking to consumers as well as AD professionals.

— From Judas and the Black Messiah:
“The whole neighborhood came out. Pushers, grannies, Crowns”
Fred Hampton:
Anywhere there’s people, there’s power”

TR:

I’m hoping to have this pledge published shortly and plan to report back to you. I’ll definitely link to the pledge from ReidMyMind .com and share on my social media pages; Facebook and Instagram @ReidMyMindRadio and
Twitter that’s @tsreid.

Join me in pledging to make audio description or our little microcosm of the world into an example of what we want this place to be. We can’t wait for the rest of them.

In the meantime, according to Ann Sur Fonne, she’s been putting me in position to meet people who want to see audio description recognized for the art it is. People ready and willing to help make AD better for all. People you’re going to meet in this upcoming season of Flipping the Script on Audio Description.
We’re talking:
AD in the lab; Creative approach or Compliance – do we have to choose?
Blind AD professionals, stand up, ya better recognize!
Get some AD to describe this outfit… Blind people are fly too!
And get ready, I’m bringing you La Professora…

The Flipping the Script on Audio Description season kicks-off Tuesday, June 14, 2022.

Come rock with Reid My Mind Radio wherever you get podcasts.
We have transcripts and more at ReidMyMind.com
Just remember, that’s R to the E I D!
(“D! And that’s me in the place to be.” Slick Rick)
Ann Sur Fonne:
“Oh, like your last name Thomas!”

— Reid My Mind Radio outro
Peace!

Hide the transcript