When a couple of screenplays in the Duke City Shootout called for black actors in about 15 roles, the digital film festival’s director said there was some concern about finding enough.
“People went in thinking, `This is going to be tough’ – just the nature of the world we live in in Albuquerque,” Grubb Graebner said. Just 2.4 percent of New Mexico’s population is black, according to 2004 U.S. Census Bureau statistics.
“It turned out to be one of the easier auditions, because so many people showed up.”
The Shootout – in its seventh year – gives winners a week to turn their screenplays into a short movie that will be distributed online and screened at the Kiva Auditorium on July 29.
Besides being the festival’s first time with so many roles designated for black performers, it’s the first time three winning screenplays have been by black writers, Graebner said. Seven screenplays were selected to participate this year.
He said it’s a “deadly clich?” to consider New Mexico lacking in black actors or lacking in talented people across many racial categories.
“The story is, here’s yet another resource that’s stepping up to the plate now that productions are coming,” Graebner said.
“If they (movie producers) do that snap judgment – that we’re not in L.A., Chicago – they’re wrong. We’ve got the performers covered.”
He attributes the widely attended auditions to the help of residents tied into the black arts community, including Cathryn McGill, a singer, songwriter and actress in New Mexico for more than 20 years. McGill helped cast for acting roles in the Shootout.
“There was some unwarranted apprehension and concern because people felt like there were not going to be enough people,” McGill said.
“But when you tap into the community and you do appropriate outreach, people who have influence in that community can ensure that those roles get covered.”
The black arts community in New Mexico is often viewed as nonexistent when, in fact, it is doing well, she said.
Increasing its visibility is a matter of better advertising of artistic opportunities, she said.
The way acting roles are conceived also poses challenges, she said.
“Usually for an African-American to be cast,” she said, “it has to be specifically expressed that’s what is needed for the role.”
The majority of the characters in “Talk Me to Death,” a winning Shootout screenplay by Pamela Johnson, are black.
“That’s who I am,” said Johnson, a former Tribune staffer who now lives in the Los Angeles area. “It’s more familiar to me, I guess. It’s . . . exploring the territory I know.”
Though some roles had to be filled by blacks, others could be filled by any race, preferably many races, she said.
Her main goal? To achieve a diversity that reflects life.
“Your moviegoing experience . . . you predominantly do not see the world represented that you live in,” she said.
“You see pretty much a white world with a little bit of garnish in terms of other races.
“I do feel like I have some desire along those lines to make the film world more representative of the real world.”