Voice actors deserve better
Voice actors in the animation industry face unfair pay and workplace conditions.
May 17, 2023
From beloved children’s cartoons to gritty video game shooters, voice actors carry a lot of weight in building a world for audiences. However, the industry does not treat these performers as well as their live-action Hollywood counterparts.
Unfair wages, exploitative higher-ups, and explicit disrespect from the industry is the unfortunate behind-the-scenes reality for many voice actors. The animation industry is overlooked in general, and the labor behind the magic is no different.
It makes sense if this is surprising. The industry has infamously poor transparency, and that’s not just for the public. Non-Disclosure Agreements can hide what kind of game or show they are auditioning for, or even what characters they voice during a recording. Notably, their low pay is often not allowed to escape the studio.
“Jujutsu Kaisen 0,” a movie prequel to the popular shōnen anime “Jujutsu Kaisen,” cemented its place alongside the highest earning anime films with its 2021 release. With the film grossing $196 million worldwide, the voice talent from the production did not receive a reasonable pay. Chris Tergliafera, who voices Kiyotaka Ichiji, Anairis Quiñones, who plays Rika Orimoto, and Tara Jayne Sands, who voices Momo Nishimiya and Utahime Iori, all shared their earnings on Twitter. They were each paid $150.
Nonetheless, the prospect of $150 for a few hours of work might sound appealing to some, but creative work like this can’t properly be compared to 9-5 jobs. The time spent finding, preparing, and attending auditions is unpaid. Classes to improve their craft and the need for at-home studio equipment created by the pandemic are expensive. The majority of the time spent doing voiceover work is often not helping these artists’ ability to pay the bills each month.
Many don’t have enough work to earn money every week and have to look for other sources of income. Voice actors often rely on fans more than their employers for financial stability. Convention appearances, personalized voicework, and autograph live streams online generally fill this role, at least for those who voice “popular” characters.
Labor unions would be the natural answer to helping these people secure fairer treatment. In the United States, voice talent has the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA). Unions like these help bargain for better rates, and ensure other benefits for those affiliated. Health insurance, pension payments, minimum agreements for a minimum flat rate, and overtime pay are all given to members. The union also provides the generally agreed upon $250 per hour minimum and two hour minimum and ensures employers follow these rules.
Unfortunately, the choice to join a union isn’t the no-brainer like it may sound like. As many companies don’t offer union contracts, voice actors have to consider whether or not the potential exposure from a non-unionized project opening doors for better paying projects along the line is worth the rights taken away. Unionized performers can be undercut by non-unionized ones, creating a choice between more work or better pay and conditions.
Furthermore, there is another notable division in the community. Young, eager fans who don’t know what rights they have can undercut more established actors. Desperate to please, they can risk permanent vocal injuries or work for free, which simultaneously worsens the expected pay and conditions for vocal work.
Despite their contributions to the art and entertainment of the world, voice actors are not treated well. The systems in place to ensure reasonable conditions for them have their issues as well. Without companies addressing these problems, it is not likely much change will happen. There have been strikes in the past, but many issues are still present in the industry. Voice actors deserve better.