August 9 on FX
Native American filmmaker Sterlin Harjo has seen countless TV shows and movies that have attempted to portray life on the reservation. He saw them fail because they missed an important point.
“The truth is, everything is different. Each community is very different and each reservation is very different. So no experience can represent the whole experience, ”says Harjo.
Harjo has avoided the generalization approach to life on the reserve with his new FX on the Hulu series “Reservation Dogs”. He opted for the half-hour comedy to focus on a specific location and a specific group of friends.
The series follows four indigenous teenagers from rural Oklahoma who steal, steal, and save in order to travel to the exotic, mysterious and distant land of California. It debuts on August 9 as part of the FX offerings on Hulu.
“We want to get the truth, but we also have to entertain. And it’s about making people laugh, ”says Harjo. “For me, it’s also about kids from other reserve communities, Indigenous kids who can watch this show, identify and see themselves reflected on the screen, something none of us have. grown up.
“The most important thing is that indigenous and indigenous children from different communities can see themselves reflected on the screen. I think it’s really important. I think it’s important to feel seen. I think it’s important to see yourself reflected.
The characters Harjo chooses to tell his stories include Bear Smallhill (D’Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai), a young man destined to be a warrior and leader. The only problem is, he’s not a good fighter and the gang doesn’t really see him as the leader. Elora Danan (Devery Jacobs) may be the real leader of the group, but she’s so focused on her trip to California that she’s oblivious to her own power.
A tough and smart girl Willie Jack (Paulina Alexis) is the heart of the group while Cheese (Lane Factor) is the sweet and quiet rider who is so willing to accompany the group that he never stops to think about it. what his own dreams might be.
It took some work but Harjo was able to find actors to star in his series. All he had to do was move his research outside of Hollywood and go to the communities where the native actors worked.
Harjo’s characters are known for their ability to steal almost anything. Although its main cast are thieves, neither Harjo nor his co-creator Taika Waititi (“What We Do In The Shadows”) has been repelled for portraying native teens in this way.
“It’s kind of based on the experiences Taika and I had growing up. You know, crime can be funny. And I see it as a comedy with dramatic elements, ”Harjo says. “We’re all indigenous in the writers’ room, and it’s never been done before.
“The strength of those numbers and having a fully Indigenous bedroom helped us not to be afraid to go strong and speak the truth and also be funny and kind of push the boundaries. “
Each writer, director and regular series in the series is Indigenous. Harjo expanded his drive to be authentic by filming the series on location in Okmulgee, OK.
Harjo knows the area because he was born and raised in Holdenville, OK. His characters in “Reservation Dogs” are trying to raise enough money to travel to California because they see it as a magical place because of the entertainment world.
This idea comes from Harjo’s own life when he was thinking of going to California and making movies when he was young. He was able to make the trip but never forgot his roots. The three feature films and the documentary he made were all set in Oklahoma.
“Oklahoma doesn’t get a lot of love. It was once Indian territory. There are 38 tribes there. So if you are part of the indigenous community there, you know how unique and special it is, ”says Harjo. “You can drive 30 minutes to an hour on the road, and you are in a whole new tribal territory with new languages, new customs, new ceremonial practices.”
“Reservation Dogs” looks at the lives of four resourceful teenagers living on a reservation. Harjo is certain that despite the specific storylines and setting, the show will have wide appeal.
“It’s going to be different, but there are a lot, I think, of universal truths that not only Native people can relate to on this show,” says Harjo. “But for us, I think as kids who grew up not seeing us reflected on the screen – and if it reflected on the screen, it was all wrong – and trying to explain who Aboriginal people were,” that’s not what we’re trying to do.
“We’re just trying to keep you entertained and tell a good story.”