The One Voice Awards is doing what no VO award show has ever done before. As of this year there is a category for the best non-binary voice. The One Voice Awards are part of the One Voice Conference UK edition that takes place in London from May 10th – 14th. The One Voice Conference USA will be taking place on August 10th – 13th in Dallas Texas.
I asked one of the conference organizers, Hugh Edwards, to give me some background on the non-binary award.
HUGH: “Yes, it’s something we have been thinking of doing for a few years now. Peter Dickson and I are committed to equality and equal opportunity for all. If I’m being totally honest, we had been waiting for the bigger industry leaders, such as the Oscars, Baftas etc. to pave the way forward when it comes to this, and have been baffled as to why, even this year, they have not made a point of doing so. The big acting awards are all still male and female split with those awards. They all come under such scrutiny now, it’s like they are waiting for the first organisation to make the move, honestly, as we were.
But we feel that now is the time. You can’t morally call yourself inclusive if you’re only looking at racial equality for example. We are all beautiful humans on this planet, and everyone should have the chance to be recognised.
I remember when the Black Lives Matter movement was just emerging at the start of the Pandemic, and I was directing one of the stages on the huge CogX festival. I was really affected by a black mother telling a story of her 6 year old son who was watching television… who asked his mum why he didn’t look like any of the characters in the show, and was there something different about him? It was heartbreaking, and everyone should be able to see themselves reflected in society. That was the precursor to us doing it, and this year even though none of the other awards have done it, we felt it was the right thing to do.”
PAUL: Now, for those readers who don’t know what we are talking about, how would you define a non-binary voice?
“It’s not so much as how we as an organisation define a non-binary voice: that isn’t up to us at all. And how could you possibly classify what a non-binary voice actually is? Does a ‘male’ voice have to sound deep? Does a female voice have to sound high-pitched?
The point of a non-binary award (in our opinion) is not that the voice sounds non-binary, it’s that the person identifies as non-binary.
This may not appear important to some people, but think of it like this: If you are a man and were told you had to enter a category as a woman, would you not be annoyed by that? I would say the likelihood is that you would! Clearly it is an important distinction. It is just as valid for those who do not identify as male or female therefore to have their own space.
This is not entirely my thinking of course. There are countless examples of how non-binary people find unfairness in awards, for example, Emma Corrin who as a non-binary person won a Golden Globe for their performance as Princess Diana in The Crown, but as Best Female.
So this year we have four different types of awards.
- Non-specific gender awards (which have always been non-specific), for example, Best Overall IVR Performance, and which can be entered by anyone.
- Best Male awards, which can be entered by those who identify as male.
- Best Female awards, which can be entered by those who identify as female.
- The Best Non-Binary award, which can be those who do not identify as male nor female.
This, in my opinion, is fair and inclusive to everyone.”
Do you see an increased demand of non-binary voices among your clients?
“I’m not really sure that’s always relevant, for the same reasons as above. The fact that more people are identifying as non-binary does not have to correlate to the demand for a non-binary voice. As I mentioned, Emma Corrin is non-binary and played a woman. This award, and I think the answer to the question is more about providing a platform, and acceptance for people to be who they are, rather than being forced into a gender model that they don’t associate themselves with.”
Did people with a non-binary voice ask for a special award, or is this something you and your team came up with?
“No, I’ve never been asked by anyone who is non-binary for a special award. But that doesn’t mean it’s not the right thing to do. I have been having conversations about it with various people over the last two years – we very nearly did it last year – and everyone has their own opinions. The most common idea is that we make the entire awards ceremony gender neutral. I’ll talk more about that later on!
I think it’s hugely important for us to take this stand, and to lead, as the first awards ceremony in the industry, with a better view, a more hopeful view, a more inclusive and diverse view. Not because of our own race, gender or sexual preference, but because it’s the right thing to do and we have the platform to do it. This kind of thing trickles down from the tops of industry, and a rising tide floats all ships.
Yes we absolutely could have ignored it like the Oscars, Baftas and other voice awards have – but we believe that this is the right thing. I’m really hoping that this kind of viewpoint is taken on by others as well, because if we don’t as an industry, then we aren’t as human beings.
We have to start thinking of people as individuals with feelings rather than groups of people with a label; because the former leads to us caring, and the latter is often too easy to dismiss and ignore.”
Do you expect this to be a controversial award, and if so, why?
“Ha! Well, I really hope not. I think it’s inevitable that some people may raise an eyebrow, but we haven’t taken away anything from anyone else that was there last year, only added one new category.
It’s most people’s dream to get to the Star Trek point where everyone in society is equal, accepted and respected. The truth is that (at the time of this interview) we don’t know how many entries we will get. If we are overwhelmed, that will signal us to do more in the future. If very few people enter, that will also tell us something. But if we did nothing, then no one has a choice.
If you look at most successful business, take Google for example, they will never show their hand with regard to politics, religion or anything else that is divisive in society. But at the same time, they provide safe spaces to include all people in their workplaces, because it’s the right thing to do.
Unfortunately, there is a little politicism surrounding non-binary at the moment in the media, but this is not a political statement from us – it’s just like the workplace, it’s just the right thing to do.”
Inclusion seems to be a key word. What do you tell people who say that if you do non-binary voices, you should also have a category for best gay or lesbian voice actor. LBGTQ people need to be welcomed and included as well.
“That’s an interesting question. But the fact is that it’s a misnomer. How you identify your gender does not define how you identify your sexuality and vice-versa.
None of the One Voice Awards are specifically for straight or LGBTQ+ people, they are for everyone. The only thing that is different here is how people identify themselves with regards to their gender. One’s sexuality has no bearing on how well you perform as an actor or voice artist – you only have to look to Hollywood for that.
I do understand that some people may group these things together, but it’s just not relevant. It’s a misnomer!”
Here’s an idea, why not do the awards completely gender neutral. Do away with all the labels. Just hand out awards for best voice overs in any category. Wouldn’t that be the epitome of equality?
“So this is the most common thing that people have tried to persuade me of. But in the same way that I believe that it’s unfair for non-binary to not have their own award, I believe it would be unfair for a female to not have her own awards, or the same for males.
There is a very good reason why these awards have traditionally been split by Male and Female. Consider commercials – the best kind of advert for something to do with babies, which have been traditionally voiced by women, are absolutely nothing like the best kind of advert for cars, which were traditionally voiced by men. Now yes, I absolutely know I’m stereotyping there, but I’m trying to point out that you are not comparing oranges with oranges when it comes to those things. You would be reduced to having a best commercial, rather than best male and best female commercial, and that would be impossible to judge and also not fair on the men or women.
What’s the saying? Vive la difference! It’s important and in my opinion the only option, that we can celebrate the differences between us all, rather than fight against them.”
And finally, this is a first for the One Voice awards. Are there even enough non-binary voice actors to compete in this category?
“I have no idea. I hope so! We will be running this for the foreseeable future, so even if it doesn’t grow immediately, I’m confident that it will over time.
I have my fingers crossed that we will have a non-binary winner on-stage at the awards ceremony, who will give their speech and that be the start of something positive…..”
Many thanks to Hugh Edwards for the interview. The One Voice Awards 2023 (UK edition) are open for submissions until February 28th. There will also be an award for best non-binary voice talent at the US edition of the One Voice Awards.
Carl Bishop says
” Here’s an idea, why not do the awards completely gender neutral. Do away with all the labels. Just hand out awards for best voice overs in any category. Wouldn’t that be the epitome of equality? ”
Very good question. I don’t think Hugh’s answer was satisfactory. He goes on to pigeon-hole females into ‘feminine’ roles and males in ‘masculine’ roles. Women can’t read excellent car spots, and men can’t do an amazing job with Gerber baby food commercials? Nonsense.
Paul Strikwerda says
I think Hugh should speak for himself on this one, but I agree that men are perfectly able to do baby food commercials and women can do car spots. If that’s the case, why don’t we hear them do these things? Because the advertising industry is notoriously conformist, and it promotes stereotypes so as not to ruffle any feathers of potential buyers. It was a big deal when Randy Thomas started announcing the Oscars, which had always been a a male voice-of-god sort of thing. The whole movie “In a world” was based on sexist, stereotypical casting in voice over land. Pigeon-holing is a fact in the industry, and so is sexism, but old stereotypes seem to be hard to deny or break.
Hugh Edwards says
Yes I totally understand your point Carl. I did make a point of saying that I was obviously stereotyping when I made that point – and I did it purely because of the time limit on the interview and not wanting to make people read the same point over again with multiple examples.
You, Carl, are of course absolutely right. that kind of stereotyping is nonsense. it always has been, even when the men were actually the only ones doing car commercials etc.
But I do stick by my point that we are not comparing apples and oranges and that men and women should have their own awards – it’s a difference in style, approach, lifestyle, history and so many more things.
Ironically, the reason for having the non-binary award in the first place is to highlight the differences we all share in society, and as I said, isnt about how it sounds but how one identifies – and I say ironically because I’m agreeing with you – that it isn’t about the sound nor the ability.
Carl Bishop says
Thanks for your two replies. I should have been more specific with my criticism. I meant to dwell on your point that “the men were actually the only ones doing car commercials etc. ” That’s actually wrong. A colleague and fellow client of Buchwald talent agency was the brand voice for Chrysler in the early 2000’s. She was the exclusive voice for PT Cruiser and this rather funny Chrysler Concord spot: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LuaIJGJNbzo
Those were national campaigns covered by SagAftra contracts. Big money. If what you meant were local and regional car spots then a quick google search netted this more recent ad with a female voice: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mYJZj4Buti4
This is less about my concern for equality but for accuracy. I enjoy reading you Paul and hold your words in high esteem, but this stopped me in my tracks. I would not want you to appear uninformed to your readers.
Paul Strikwerda says
Hi Carl, I appreciate your concern for my reputation. Did you know that women only make an appearance in one out of ten adverts, even though they make three-quarters of all consumer purchases? This statistic comes from Jane Cunningham and Philippa Roberts, the authors of “Brandsplaining: Why Marketing is (Still) Sexist.” This book came out in 2021.
Jane and Philippa spent over 12 years researching the extent of sexism in advertising. Even adverts that seem to be all about empowering women (like women should be more confident and independent) are an example of “sneaky sexism.” The authors say that the hidden message implies that women still need to improve or do more to succeed because they are not good enough.
Carl Bishop says
Your original reply, in reference to women not doing car spots said “If that’s the case, why don’t we hear them do these things?” and Hugh’s response saying: men were actually the only ones doing car commercials etc. are what I was commenting on; which in both cases is not correct. That was the focus of my criticism with your article and subsequent answers to my comment.
Paul Strikwerda says
My point is that we’re looking at overall trends, and that’s also what Jane Cunningham and Philippa Roberts did. I totally get that one can find exceptions (thank goodness), but exceptions prove the rule.