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“There might be an assumption that I’m African-American because the two leads are African-American,” says Leon. “I’m not a graffiti writer, either. It was just about: ‘How do we get this right?’ ”
Leon admits that one producer who read his script early on suggested making the characters white, allegedly to increase the film’s “marketability,” despite the fact that the total production budget was a mere $65,000. Then there was the casting consultant who couldn’t stop referring to Hickson (whom Leon wrote Gimme the Loot for after casting him in a short film, Killer) in terms of other black actors, despite Leon and Soghor’s insistence that Hickson’s screen persona was close to a young Tom Hanks or Matthew Broderick. “And she said, ‘So, he’s like a nerdier Taye Diggs?’ ” Leon recalls, incredulous.
“We worked really hard to try to make this movie authentic: characters, language, clothes, locations, graffiti,” Leon says. That even extended to creating a public-access cable TV show, the All City Hour, a purportedly “archival” excerpt of which appears early in the film. And in the year since Gimme the Loot premiered at the South By Southwest festival in Austin (where it won the Grand Jury Prize) and screened at Cannes, Leon has continued producing new episodes of the All City Hour together with Soghor and other Gimme the Loot alumni. (Shot on weekends, the show airs weekly on the Manhattan Neighborhood Network and similar access channels in the Bronx and Brooklyn.)
Leon says, “Back when we didn’t know what was going to happen with this movie, if we would even get distribution, “I had this idea: let’s get a public access show, and we’ll have a show built around the movie, and hopefully we can get a Village Voice profile. ‘Look at what these kids did! It’s a real New York movie! You should go out and see it this week!’ ”
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