Wednesday, May 12, 2010

On: My Accent...or should that be "moi accin"

Did you know that Phil Keoghan is a New Zealander?

How about Cliff Curtis?

Anna Paquin?

For the love of all that's Lost, Alan Dale?

What about Lucy Lawless?

Sam Neill?

Perhaps you did, because you take an interest in these celebrities, or their shows or movies. Perhaps you didn't, but don't give much thought to their accent being a little rounded, or in the case of Sam Neill or Alan Dale, thought of as British or Mid-Atlantic.

In all of these cases, these actors and actresses have had to fundamentally change the way they speak to be acceptable in their chosen career. No American accent, no dice.

Changing your accent for the wider pop culture and media market can be a double edged sword. Keoghan articulates how

it sometimes "pisses me off a wee bit because, you know, some people don't like that [he has that American] accent. Well, it pisses me off because they think you're less of a New Zealander if you have an accent."

I remember sitting in the movie theatre during a screening of "Attack of the Clones", and hearing the audience titter when Temuera Morrison as Jango Fett spoke ("You're not in Guatemala now, Jango Fett"). He didn't use a full American accent, but it was much closer to his normal kiwi accent. The separation between accents was even more pronounced in Daniel Logan, who played a young Boba Fett. Why did a New Zealand audience feel uncomfortable hearing a kiwi accent in a major piece of American pop culture? Does our distinctiveness not have a place in a global narrative? Will space - our future - only be inhabited by American speaking people?

On the other side of the Atlantic, Lucy Hockings is a New Zealand-born and educated news reader for the BBC, and though she struggled against institutionalism she has been able to keep her accent.

"When I started the accent was a huge problem and I was sent to the Royal Academy of Drama for speech lessons. They were unsuccessful. My accent is part of who I am and I work for an international broadcaster and it's a good reflection of the newsroom, which is very international."

As I've got older, I've railed against the ideal that to have a successful voice acting/media career, you have to have an accent acceptable to a wider audience, whether that's American or English. OK, so I can and will do it, I work very hard at perfecting accents, but it makes me question - what is so unnacceptable about my kiwi accent?

I get what makes it sound so "childish" - the rising inflection, the swallowed "dark" L, the lazy rounded vowels. I work on these within the context of my daily voice work. Therefore, it stands to reason that if I have a voice that I have been working to make good for New Zealand purposes, its quality should translate to a wider audience.

I'm not Phil Keoghan, I don't command the power and money that he has now, so it does seem ungrateful to be perturbed that it's my accent that's holding me back. But surely, all being equal - one has a clear voice, is a good actor, has the personality, is not reading for a particular character - the way I speak normally should be acceptable.

I've talked about it before, but the first time I used my normal kiwi accent for a world-wide (American based) podcast, I was absolutely ripped to shreds. I will take constructive criticism where it's due on my pace, enunciation, and pronunciation, but isn't there a responsibility on the part of the listener to attune to a global voice? It strikes me as sheer laziness bordering on American-centrism when a listener criticizes an "impenetrable" accent. The rest of the world has attuned their ears to American and British accents because of their proliferation in popular culture, why can't courtesy be shown for ours?

1 comment:

  1. What was the podcast, if you don't mind me asking, and would you recommend it? I'm always after new things to listen to.

    (and am currently trawling the backwaters of your blog, as you may have noticed. Hello!)