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On Thursday night, the show’s cast and creative team gathered on Sunset Blvd. at Neuehouse Hollywood to celebrate the premiere of the show that has already garnered a slew of positive critical reception prior to its release.
Set to debut Aug. 9 on FX on Hulu, Reservation Dogs is a gritty, coming-of-age tale centered on four Indigenous teenagers in rural Oklahoma. Willing to do whatever it takes to get off the reservation, the teens turn to criminal activity, as they try to save up enough money to escape to California. With an all-Indigenous lead cast, the show aims to paint a realistic picture of growing up in modern-day native communities.
While Waititi — with several projects ongoing — wasn’t able to always be on set for filming, the Thor: Ragnarok director Zoom-ed into writer’s room meetings, while Harjo led the charge on production.
“I had a whole list of writers and talented directors that I wanted to work with — all my friends and people that I’ve known for years,” Harjo said of bringing together the show’s cast and crew, most of whom are of native descent themselves. “All they needed was the opportunity.”
The concept for Reservation Dogs came to be approximately two years ago, in what Harjo describes as a process that “moved really fast.”
“It hasn’t changed a lot,” the co-creator said of the original idea, born from a brainstorm between himself and long-time friend Waititi. Harjo is a member of the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma, while Waititi is of Māori descent, having grown up in New Zealand.
Raised in a native community in Oklahoma himself, Harjo said he pulled “much of [his] own life” into the story. “I can’t watch an episode without seeing all of the different stories from my life,” the showrunner added.
Amidst their celebration of the show’s premiere, the Reservation Dogs team emphasized their hope that the project will open doors for future native stories to be told.
“I think we’re in a new era for representation of our people,” Zahn McClarnon (who plays Big) says of indigenous communities in Hollywood. “I’m just grateful that we’re getting opportunities just like every ethnicity, every other culture in this business.”
“I’ve been doing this for 30 years and didn’t ever think I would see the day when we had a native-directed, produced, written, acted-in [show.] A lot of companies didn’t want to take the risk.”
But McClarnon is optimistic for the future. The Westworld actor continued: “The native culture is such a small percentage of the United States. There’s not a huge audience for it, but I think this is gonna grow that audience.”
Despite all the celebratory excitement, cast member Devery Jacobs (who plays Elora Danan) emphasized the pressure of creating something that’s never been done before. Set to begin production at the start of coronavirus lockdowns in April 2020, the cast and crew weren’t sure if the show would even get picked up past its pilot.
“Now, I’m finally able to let my hair down and celebrate and relish in this moment, instead of feeling the responsibility and the pressure that if we don’t do this right, then they might not finance indigenous projects in the future,” Jacobs said.
And her concerns aren’t misplaced, as for so long, native representation in film was hard to come by.
“It’s usually like, ‘Okay, I can get a native character to say something here, I can get the janitor to be Native American, or I can get the nurse to be a Native American, and that’s a huge accomplishment,” director Sydney Freeland — who helmed episodes two and four of the show — said of her past directing experiences in which she’s pushed for indigenous storytelling. “This is just blowing all that out of the water. Native Americans are front and center [in Reservation Dogs].”
And that creative environment is something that Freeland called “distinctly un-Hollywood,” and rather, something more akin to that of the collaborative culture of native communities themselves.
The show’s premiere comes the same day that LeBron James announced his newest project Rez Ball for Netflix, a Native American-led story to be directed by Freeland.
As more Indigenous stories are given a platform in Hollywood, Freeland — who is of Navajo descent — hopes that the future of this content will feature a diverse perspective on the native experience.
“I hope that we’ll be able to show that we are not a monolith,” the Rutherford Falls director said. “We are not just a uniform or homogenous group that all tell the same stories. We’re gonna blow this thing wide open.”
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