“Reservation Dogs,” an FX comedy set in Oklahoma, proves that “Indigenous people are very hilarious.”
“Reservation Dogs” is the first TV series to have an all-Indigenous crew of writers, directors, and series regulars.
It’s a significant step forward for a community that has been largely ignored onscreen, but it’s also crucial to the authenticity – and, more importantly, the humor – of the half-hour FX on Hulu comedy that follows four engagingly rebellious Native teenagers (first two episodes of eight episodes streaming Monday). The series was shot on location in rural Oklahoma on the Muscogee reserve.
“It wouldn’t be as rich with characters or just the surprising turns in the stories if it’s a non-Native-controlled writers room,” says Oscar winner Taika Waititi (“Thor: Ragnarok,” “What We Do in the Shadows”), a Maori New Zealander who helps created the series with Sterlin Harjo, a Seminole/Muscogee Creek filmmaker from Holdenville, Oklahoma.
“We’re weary of seeing ourselves represented on a hilltop playing flute, talking to a tree, communing with ghosts,” Waititi adds of long-held preconceptions.
“I’ve never seen us portrayed (like us) on this program.” Despite the fact that film representations of Native people have been restricted, some progress has been made. In April, Harjo and “Dogs” director Sydney Freeland teamed together on a Netflix Native American basketball drama called “Rez Ball,” which has an Indigenous co-creator and stars.
The central premise, which Harjo describes as “these youngsters who decide to become vigilantes and clean up the neighborhood in a hilarious manner,” inspired by the co-creators’ shared childhood experiences in Oklahoma and New Zealand.
“It doesn’t matter where in the globe you are, whether you’re from a poor or minority community, you’re probably still going to adore Bob Marley,” Waititi adds. “You’re probably still going to latch onto American pop culture; we both have kids who grew up loving ‘Karate Kid.'” “Reservation Dogs,” a parody of Quentin Tarantino’s “Reservoir Dogs,” follows a group of teenagers who spend their days stealing a truckload of snack chips, visiting the local health clinic, strategizing against a quartet of rival adolescent rivals, and yearning to escape to an ideal There’s sorrow underneath their pranks and byplay, as a result of their buddy Daniel’s death a year ago.
Waititi and Harjo enlisted the help of Native collaborators to script and direct the film.
They looked outside conventional Hollywood casting sources, which underrepresented in Indigenous areas,
to locate young performers from Native communities in United States and Canada.
Harjo adds, “What I appreciate about the Native writers’ room is that we weren’t policing ourselves,
and there was no catching non-Natives up.” “We weren’t scared to go where we needed to go. We weren’t holding back. I was like, ‘Let’s go hard.’ The strength in numbers gave us the ability to express what we wanted.” This enables them to poke fun at somber clichés that others may be reluctant to touch. When one of the teenagers, Bear Smallhill (D’Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai), comes face to face with a spiritual warrior in a time of uncertainty, it’s a hilariously incompetent figure who perished in an accident before he could even get to the battle.
“We wanted to show a valueless fighter from the Little Big Horn battle,” Waititi explains. The series doesn’t shy away from Indigenous people’s past oppression or the difficulties they face now,
but it focuses on the rebelliousness, tenacity, and humor that have helped them survive.
“You have to convey the subtleties and specificities of a location,” Harjo adds. “It’s not like we’re concentrating on the sorrow, but it’s there.”
“I believe it helps the comedy come through even more since we grew up in these disadvantaged areas,
but we still find ways to be funny and have imagination,” says Devery Jacobs,
who portrays adolescent Elora Danan and is a Mohawk actress from Kahnawake, Quebec.
“and I didn’t think about how my people have endured hardships every day growing up on the Rez; I was like, ‘Oh yeah, that’s part of our history.’ It’s just a fact of life for us,” Jacobs says. “What Im so pleased for, in this being a comedy, is that
it shows that we are three-dimensional people, and Indigenous people are really funny,” Jacobs says. “I can’t fathom what it would have done for me and my self-esteem
if I had seen a program like this on the air when I was younger,” she adds. “I’m looking forward to watching seniors,
people my age, and youngsters coming up take it in and really rejoice with us.”
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