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Discrimination on the basis of voice color?

Yasmine Modestine's fight for a colorblind dubbing industry.

Actress and singer Yasmine Modestine in her Paris apartment. (Mildrade Cherfils/GlobalPost)

PARIS — In her 20-plus years working as an actress, Yasmine Modestine has heard her share of outlandish and sometimes painfully ignorant comments.

There were casting directors who implied she was not black enough for a role — or that she was too black. A black man’s lips were described as not being full enough for a part. One director described a scene of three people sitting at a bar as “two men and a black guy.”

Most of the time, Modestine swallowed her pride because show business is tough and she needed to work. But in February 2007, when she thought a casting director’s off-the-cuff comment directly linked her race to not getting a callback, she filed a discrimination complaint. Since then, Modestine said, she has not gotten a job in the lucrative dubbing industry.

“If I don’t work because of a boycott or if I don’t work because I’m black, the result is the same: I’m not working,” she said during an interview at her modest apartment in eastern Paris. “I’m not fighting for myself anymore; I’m opening the door for others.”

The voice acting industry is an integral part of cinematic culture in Europe and extends far beyond that seen regularly in the United States, such as the clumsy dubbing of martial arts films. Virtually all television shows and movies that arrive in France from America are dubbed into French. An estimated 90 percent of foreign films projected in theaters are dubbed.

“There’s a lot of money to be made,” said Modestine, who is also a singer but had been working her way into the voice acting business for five years. The rate for a voice actor, who is usually paid per line, can range from about 100 euros ($135) for a half-day’s work to over 500 euros ($679) for a full day, according to figures from an industry union.

In the complaint filed with HALDE, the government commission that investigates discrimination claims, Modestine contended that the casting director reneged on a work agreement for a television show because of her race. She had just finished recording a background noise scene, the kind of cacophony one might hear in a restaurant, when the casting director told the dozen or so actors present that she wanted them to return a few weeks later for more scenes.

But later, directing her comments at Modestine and another black actor, the casting director said, according to the complaint: “I don’t know if I will need you on March 20, if there will be people like you in the next episode,” according to a transcript of the proceedings. “I can’t put you in everything since you have special voices.”