Podcast: What’s in an Accent? Both Opportunity and Barriers for Immigrant Actresses

ACCENTSPIC2NANDA

Argentinian actress Nanda Abella takes accent reduction classes to sound more American.

ACCENTSPIC3RUYA

Actress Ruya Koman is from Turkey, but she wants to learn a Spanish accent to get more roles.

Fi2W is featuring stories by students in the Feet in 2 Worlds journalism course at The New School.

Nanda Abella has been struggling with her Spanish accent for years. Like many Hispanic actresses trying to make it in New York, the Argentinian-born Abella says she can sense it the moment she walks into an audition. “You see the faces when you have an accent,” she says, “you see how they look at you.” And so twice a month Abella pays $90 for forty five minutes with a coach to help her sound more American.

Listen to the Podcast here:

 

Abella says that being Latina and having an accent determines the kinds of rolls she gets. “I want to be the Latina lawyer, the Latina professional. I don’t want to be the Latina maid all the time,” she laments. “You can’t be a successful woman because you are a Latina? Oh, c’mon, that is terrible! That’s a prejudice, and that is something that a lot of Latinos are voicing.”

Nanda’s experience is not uncommon. Soledad del Rio, coordinator of The Hispanic Organization of Latin Actors, or HOLA, says the choice of roles for Latino actors is, “still very little, and very stereotyped… it has to change.”

There are hints of change. More Hispanic actors are appearing in films, TV series and commercials. Representatives of HOLA point out that media production in general is increasing and Latino actors are benefiting from the increase. There is also a trend factor: audiences are falling in love with Hispanic culture, another variable helping Latino actors. In addition, the success of actresses such as Penelope Cruz, Salma Hayek and Sofia Vergara is opening doors for Hispanic actresses, and, even more important, opening the ears of mainstream American audiences to Spanish accents.

Sometimes the Hispanic stereotype can come in handy. Nanda Abella agrees that there are opportunities for actresses who fit the Latina look. “Luckilly I have brown eyes and dark hair, so I look like a Latina,” she says. “Hispanic actresses who are blond or have blue eyes and a strong Spanish accent have a really hard time.”

In some cases even non-Hispanic actresses who fit the stereotypical Latina look are finding roles as Latinas. Rüya Koman, an actress from Turkey, landed a role as an Hispanic character in a play after a director saw her picture. She then tried to train herself to speak with a Spanish accent by listening to Sofia Vergara, copying both her speech patterns and body language.

Ruya continues to work on her Hispanic accent. “I think a Hispanic accent can bring a lot of good things to me and to my acting. I really see a lot of casting calls where they need a Hispanic actress. I think there is a huge market of things you can do,” she says.

But while the market may be opening up, HOLA representatives say it is still a struggle for Latinos trying make it in the film industry and on stage. Nanda Abella agrees. But she also says she can’t complain because she is working. What she really regrets is that, “they put us in this little box. I want them (writers and directors) to imagine that a Latino can be a Supreme Court (justice), that a Latino can be something more than a waiter.”

Thanks to Tarek Fouda for help with engineering. 

Fi2W is supported by the David and Katherine Moore Family Foundation and the Ralph E. Odgen Foundation.