Pardon my French, but what the #$%^&*(*&^% is an "Asian American" accent? By definition, isn't that just "American"? I am Asian American. I was born in the United States and both of my parents were born in the United States. We are native English speakers and our English is as unaccented as it can be - I guess it's regionally accented, in the sense that we're from the Northeastern portion of the United States and we're urban dwellers so we don't have southern accents or midwestern twangs, but what does that have to do with being of Asian descent?
If they mean an ASIAN accent, that's still weird because Asia is a REALLY BIG PLACE with a ton of languages and dialects and accents. There is no "Asian accent" that I am aware of. There's definitely no "Asian American" accent. That's like saying an "African American accent." WTF would that mean? Or a "White American accent" - ain't that the same thing? We're all Americans with some cool ancestry, whether it be Asian, African, European, whatever. Thinking an "Asian American" sounds like she has, say, a Filipino accent better mean you also think a "White American" sounds like he has, say, a German accent. This is just dumb.
The audition was for a huge corporation that should know better. I got to the studio and was promptly surrounded by Asian American women, all of whom, like me, spoke unaccented American English. The one sitting next to me, who was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, as it turned out, asked me if I saw the "accent" description, which promptly launched us into a discussion of exactly why Asian American actors are relegated to these bizarre and meaningless stereotypes and why we are sent out for roles that don't even make sense - for example, me and the Philly girl should just go for ANY American voiceover job. Nobody can SEE us. Our racial background won't disrupt any racist's listening pleasure. They'll have no idea we're of Asian descent, listening to our pretty voiceovers.
Auditions like that also put native English speaking Asian American actors at a huge disadvantage. We are getting put up against non-native English speakers who actually have authentic accents from various parts of Asia. How can we compete with that with our popcorn and bubblegum American English? We should be reading for the "regular" American roles...but only the white people are in that room.
Or are they?
Because, after the audition, I walked home and, the more time went on, the more riled up I got. I contacted my (wonderful) agency and explained because I am a native English speaker and my English is American English, I am concerned that I am not going to be competitive against actors who are actually non-native English speakers so could I read for the other role - the "regular" American role? They immediately said yes without any argument whatsoever and booked me back into the studio within the hour. So, maybe half the battle is just...asking.
But now we'll see what casting thinks. Because if the ad agency thought it was brilliant to tell agencies to give them actors with a "hint of an Asian American accent," there's no telling how they're going to make this casting decision.
On the bright side, it did motivate me to write my own monologue for another audition, which went swimmingly well:
A Hint of an Asian American Accent
A 2 Minute Monologue
By Jennifer Betit Yen
Oh buckle up, Buttercup. I’ve got one for you. Yesterday, I got an audition. They said they wanted someone “personable” and “relatable.” I was like yay! I’m personable! I’m relatable! So, I go over to the casting office and I read over the sides and they’re cool and I go into the studio and I do my read and I’m feeling good! Feeling great! And the casting director says, “That was wonderful, but we’ll need you to do it again, this time, with just a hint of an Asian American accent.”
What. The. Fuck. Is an “Asian American accent”? I mean, hello! I’M Asian American so my accent must be as authentic and genuine as you can get! But I didn’t say that, of course. I just said politely, “I’m so sorry. What do you mean exactly?” He said, "You know, like you’re from Asia.”
OH. Because all Asian Americans are from Asia. No. No, we’re not. I was born in New York City. My parents were born in New York City. One of my parents? Not even Asian. My grandparents were born in New York City. But at this point, the casting director is getting all annoyed and impatient and he says to me, “Just do an Asian accent!” And I wanted to be cool. I didn’t want to be the high maintenance actor. But now I’m thinking, WHAT IS AN “ASIAN ACCENT”? Because, Asia? REALLY BIG PLACE. Full of countries and languages and accents. And just because I am of Asian heritage does not mean I know them all. Plus, isn’t this all just a little racist?
SO, you know what I said?! You know what I did?!
I did my “Five dollah! Chinee medicin’!” accent. Yeah, I totally compromised all my values and principles…
I think he liked it.
Fingers crossed for a call back!
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