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'Tribal Cop' screenplay brings modern Native Americans to the forefront

Shokestewa as Lieutenant Baca "Tribal Cop"
ShoKestewa Montoya / Lieutenant Baca "Tribal Cop"

Native American actor, Roscoe Pond has organized a film screenplay table read of “Tribal Cop.” It will be on Saturday Feb. 15, 2014 from 1 p.m to 4 p.m on the University of New Mexico campus at Albuquerque, N.M. Roscoe has gathered mostly a Native American cast ensemble for this table read. “Cop” follows a tribal officer & his partner who try to solve a brutal murder that took place near an Indian Casino.

Pond spent years looking for work as an actor in Hollywood. He was perplexed as to why there were no lead roles for modern native men coming from the major studios & on television. The con-census was & is that natives are relegated to stereotypical roles in western films. Pond decided to write his own story which later became a murder mystery set on an Indian Reservation.

When Pond went looking for actors and actresses for the table read of “Cop.” Several native actors and actresses had been waiting for him to get the ball rolling. They want to work even if it is just a table read. Some have offered to even travel across state lines into New Mexico.

There were no lead actor roles written for TV or films in 2013 for Native American men. There might be an occasional independent movie where audiences might see a native portrayed. The question remains, “Will a mass film audience ever see a native lead performance?” The last diversity report card from the “Screen Actors Guild” (SAG) was back in 2008. The percentage of natives working in movies, TV, commercials & Indie films is a mere 0.30% (1998-2008).

It is now 2014 and there has been no diversity report card from SAG or the “American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA). That is a long 6 years and it seems that Native American talent is still invisible in the mainstream. According to the 2008 SAG diversity report, “In a joint effort by producers and the guild (SAG) to realistically portray 'The American Scene', producers signatory to the guild’s television and theatrical contracts must submit hiring data of performers on all productions from theatrical feature films, theatrical low budget films, television episodic programs and television non-episodic programs.”

“Specifically, with the purpose to improve conditions for equal employment access and opportunities, the collection and analysis of hiring data based on gender, age, and race/ethnicity of performers are examined to determine hiring trends of our traditionally underemployed and disenfranchised membership.”

The SAG & AFTRA unions merged a few years ago to help its' members find more work especially during TV pilot seasons. SAG president Ken Howard who is now in his second term has tried to support the Native American community. Each TV network (CBS, ABC, NBC, FOX) has a diversity department that reaches out to ethnic communities with actor showcases. Pond had asked the local SAG/AFTRA President Tom Schuch to participate at the table read & he accepted a role. But, the question still remains, “Where are the Native Americans in mainstream movies & on TV?”

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