Nadine Ross and The Controversial Legacy

Continuing the conversation about ‘digital blackface’.

Nadine Ross and Chloe Frazer, as characters, mean sooo much to me. They’re my laptop wallpaper.

​{Excerpt — Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, 2016}

Nadine Ross: Hi Victor.

Victor Sullivan: Hellooo Nadine. Pleasure to see you again.

Nadine Ross: Only this time I’ve got the drop on you.

Vitor Sullivan: Well, I should be glad that’s not a real gun. Hardly recognize you out of your fatigues.

Nadine Ross: Yeah, you know how it is. Every once in a while a job requires us to get all dolled up. Looking sharp by the way.

Victor Sullivan: Not too bad yourself.

Nadine Ross: I feel so out of place here.

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Nadine Ross’ stunning animation. Uncharted: The Lost Legacy (2017).

Before I start, I pose to you the following questions: What video games have Black female characters? Are they the leads or secondary characters? And what were their roles in these games? Are they even playable characters? Or are they NPC’s? Just let those questions marinate while I discuss what I do and why I do it whenever I begin writing about a topic, an issue, or a controversy in the socio-political and/or pop cultural space. Firstly, I go through my mental rolodex and think about the media that I like to consume and the ramifications it has on the greater populace that consumes it. Secondly, I lay out a plethora of questions, answers, and random non-sequiturs that float on the periphery of my thought process. Lastly, I think about the through lines or themes that permeate through the particular medium. The primary reason for such an extensive process is to feed the part of my brain that engages in critical thinking and to prepare my body for flexing its empathy muscles. So, I hope you had a moment to mull those initial questions over that I posed to you in the beginning because we’re going to dive into this conversation headfirst.

‘Digital blackface’ exists and it’s a discussion that’s long overdue.

The very presence of Nadine Ross in the sea of white faces and male protagonists was a breath of fresh air in the gaming world, like all instances where women of color get an opportunity to shine; Thus, the decision by Naughty Dog to hire a white American voice actress to play the role of Nadine Ross felt like an enormous blow to their record thus far for same color casting, deliberately writing people of color into their narratives, and not operating from a place of digital blackface. Digital blackface as it relates to voice acting is showing a non-white person in your medium — i.e. Nadine Ross — but having a white person perform or act as the mouthpiece of the assigned character (see Laura Bailey). Their is no tangible data whatsoever at this time about the voice acting industry and its racial makeup, besides word-of-mouth and scouring through voice acting roles, and the reality is that there are more men, especially white men that dominate the industry. This is no slight against actors that need work, every one needs a job and the ability to support themselves, but all industries suffer when there is no attempt to reach out to all possible candidates about job positions or sidestepping the grueling work of inclusion — that includes those across the sexual, gender, racial, and abled spectrums. In a perfect world, ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusion’ would be involuntary reflexes that would be at the forefront of our minds at all times, but we are human, we have our biases, we are growing, and we are fallible.

The response given by Naughty Dog was very telling about the work that still needs to be done universally in all spaces where the voices and expertise of people of color are severely lacking and how that translates to hiring decisions, casting calls, auditions, and so on. I also wished to address what I like to call the ‘God of War defense’ on comment sections and threads that I’ve seen talking about Nadine Ross and moreover racial discrimination in the business of voice acting. The God of War series of video games employed the voice talent of T.C. Carson — who is Black — for almost ten years and with the recent release of God of War 2018, Christopher Judge who is also Black is now voicing the title character. The conversation has been that Kratos, who is Greek, is racially considered white but is voiced by a Black voice actor, so what’s the problem with that, isn’t this ‘diversity’ and giving acting opportunities to Black voice talent and isn’t this also taking away an opportunity from white voice actors that could potentially be considered for the role?

TC Carson has voiced the character of Kratos for more than a decade.
Christopher Judge is the new God of War, and yes this video was very amusing.

I always look at the entirety of what the voice actors’ talent is being used for…what type of character are they voicing? What type of story is the video game trying to tell and is the character within that story promoting or playing up positive or negative characteristics and tropes? The reason why I bring up God of War in particular is because the titular character is voiced by Black Men, with real world stereotypes that could translate over into the voice talent and story threads used for Kratos. Kratos throughout the series of games has been a violent, bloodthirsty, cruel, scary, oversexed, menacing, stoic, brooding, hostile, etc. etc. character that has troubling issues with intimacy, compassion, and vulnerability. These traits could be hand waved and said that all men could be labeled with these traits;however, the reality is that Black Men are given these traits by and large via pseudoscience that have trickled into everything including policy, policing, incarceration practices, and without a doubt media representation. The voice acting talent of people of color playing violent people or playing up certain racial stereotypes should be cause for much greater concern than what has been given thus far. It’s a personal concern of mine, especially with the great or game changing roles that are already limited in the voice acting community, so it often pays to look deeper into the media we consume and what is being relayed to us beyond the initial surface level.

{Excerpt — Uncharted: The Lost Legacy DLC, 2017}

Chloe Frazer: How we going out there?

Nadine Ross: On schedule. Should hit land in about an hour.

Chloe Frazer: Great.

Nadine Ross: The tusk of Ganesh, no wonder the Hoysala capital was ransacked. Look at this thing.

Naughty Dog Studios always pushes the Playstation console(s) to its limit.

Naughty Dog has been lauded as the gaming powerhouse that is pushing the storytelling and graphics engine envelope. Through Naughty Dog studio, we’ve seen the trajectory of their work and the amazing games that they’ve produced when they’ve dipped their toes into diversity and inclusivity. Their studio has become the template for making well rounded memorable games for a reason. However, their diversity has lent itself towards emotionally driven narratives rather than exploring deeper gender, racial, or ethnic narratives. If women and girls are present, they play sidekicks, tertiary characters, or receive solo titles via shorter DLC content only. And, if there are people of color present, there is no time allotted towards any meaningful conversation about their place in this predominantly white world.

The Last of Us: Left Behind was beautiful! Naughty Dog knows how to craft gripping narratives.

For example, we were witnesses to the beautifully heartbreaking story of The Last of Us: Left Behind, wherein its two female characters navigated the dystopia of a world ravaged by a parasitic disease run rampant. In the midst of so much gloom and uncertainty, their love and friendship allowed them to buoy above the sea of sadness and death that surrounded them. I applaud what Naughty Dog has accomplished in their career thus far, holding on and staying strong even when the horizon seemed murky as they moved from one Playstation generation to the next; but, as a fan and an admirer of their work since Crash Bandicoot back in the 1990s I have to let them know that their decision to cast Laura Bailey as Nadine Ross could/should not have happened. Their next series of video games need to have more Women as the focus and the leads, especially Women of Color…I’ve seen what you can do and what you’re capable of Naughty Dog, I have faith in you.

Claudia Black’s voice is out of this world! Please check out more of her work.

And no, I haven’t forgotten about Chloe Frazer and the unpacking of her biracial status as an Australian-Indian woman in the grand scheme of the Uncharted Series. She in fact helms the game with Nadine Ross, with the amazing voice talent of Claudia Black, and yet The Lost Legacy’s story tips a bit more towards Chloe’s story/identity than Nadine’s. So, I can’t emphasize enough the visual and physical presence of Nadine Ross in the Uncharted gaming franchise, because she is the first Black Woman that we are formally introduced to in the entire series. Her additional ethnic classification of being South African also lends itself to some very historic and social consequences for the player and the world that Uncharted has spent its time establishing.

Nadine Ross and Chloe Frazer need more than a DLC. Give them a franchise, please and thank you!

Neither Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End or The Lost Legacy delve into the fact that Nadine Ross is the only Black female in the position that she’s in (with minute passing glances towards her gender only); to include, she’s a Black female South African that carries with her the reality of living under historical Apartheid and racism in her country, and in the larger global context abroad. Racism, sexism, and erasure for Black women is a vile pernicious reality. Consequently, the intersections that exist for Nadine Ross and her working relationships with the white people in the games that she’s been in have been given short shrift. To acknowledge the anomaly that is Nadine Ross wouldn’t have been a bad thing; actually it would have opened a larger dialogue about the need to have more Black Women and people of color in every day spaces, even if you don’t think they belong — to imagine them there is truly half the battle.

If you love action, adventure, and amazing locales…Uncharted: The Lost Legacy is the game for you.

{Excerpt — Uncharted: The Lost Legacy DLC, 2017}

Chloe Frazer: Wow. *chuckles*

Sam Drake: Yep…

Chloe Frazer: We just did a thing.

Nadine Ross: We did.

Chloe Frazer: So…what’s next for Nadine Ross? Take back Shoreline? Conquer the weapons trade?

Nadine Ross: I’m done with Shoreline.

Sam Drake: Really?

Nadine Ross: Really. If anything, I was thinking I might give this, ah…treasure hunting racket another go.

Editor: We Are Horror Magazine. Writer: An Injustice, Fanfare, Gayly Dreadful, Haw Creek Horror, Rely on Horror, Something Ghoulish, and SUPERJUMP.

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