Last week's panel on accents at the ACTRA conference proved to be an interesting experience. Three actors from visible minorities--Billy Merasty, Marium Carvell and myself--gave testimony about our experience, while the moderator, John Nelles and panelist Lyn Woodman talked mainly about how to make oneself sound less Canadian and therefore acceptable to American ears.
One of the points I made is that as a minority actor, I learned early in my career that many of the parts I would be asked to play would involve an accent from the Indian subcontinent. That's the reality for a visible minority actor. It's not a bad thing, it just means that home grown performers like myself, must learn to fake the accent if we want to get that work. I've reached the point in my career where I'm often used in a voice over or radio setting--where how i look doesn't matter. However, it appears my accent is authentic enough that I get those jobs as well.
I told the attendees that one of the great advantages producers have hiring me as opposed to an actor who speaks English naturally with an accent, is that I can dial it up or down as needed. My ability to use an accent becomes another "special skill" along with driving manual transmission and alpine skiing -- or whatever else actors put on their resumes.
Minority actors should learn to do the accent of their racial and/or cultural background as authentically as possible to enhance their employability.
Actors who speak with an accent naturally should learn to lose their foreign accent to enhance their employability.
And be prepared to offer both in an audition situation.