âReservation Dogsâ gets high marks for being the first major television series entirely directed and written by Indigenous people. But don’t log in just because of it; watch because it’s funny.
The show, now airing on Hulu, stars a group of teenagers ready to have meat pies and steal a truckload of hot fries as part of their ongoing efforts to raise enough money to get out of their rural town of Oklahoma.
Along the way, they come across a gang that mows down their rivals with paintball guns, a reservation agent addicted to energy drinks, and a distant uncle who gets high more than Willie Nelson. There’s also some sort of Guardian Angel, a ghost warrior who died in the Battle of Little Big Horn after his horse tripped over a gopher hole.
âThere was a time when content about indigenous peoples had to be depressing,â said co-creator Taika Waititi, who won an Oscar last year for writing âJojo Rabbitâ. âFor a long time people just wanted to see us ride whales, talk to trees, play the flute on top of the mountains and learn something from our grandmother. And that’s it. That’s all they did. were waiting. Distorting those expectations is a powerful thing. “
Waititi teamed up with longtime friend Sterlin Harjo, who based much of the show’s premise on his own upbringing in rural Oklahoma. He dots many references to the movies he grew up on, including “Friday”, “Stand by Me” and “The Goonies”. One of the teenagers even bears the name of a character from “Willow”. But he was also determined to spread Native American stereotypes without crossing the boundaries of ridicule.
âNon-natives are always afraid to laugh at native things because they’ve been so trained to see us seriously and act like we are precious,â Harjo said. âYou have to kind of give them permission to laugh and say, ‘We’re funny people too. “”
The cast will be mostly unknown to viewers, with the exception of “MADtv” veteran Bobby Lee, who plays a doctor who appears to have ignored the Hippocratic Oath. Casting meant going to reservations across North America to sniff out prospects.
âThe talent is there. It just isn’t on Hollywood Boulevard,â Harjo said at a press conference this month. âHollywood makes a western every few years where native actors are killed in front of a camp. It’s just not the most exciting job. So they’re not in LA knocking on the door, trying to “get those roles. You have to go to their communities to find them.”
One of those new faces is Paulina Alexis, who plays Willie Jack, our most fearless of our teenage heroes. Alexis grew up in Alberta, where she was inspired by the films “DreamKeeper”, “Smoke Signals” and “Dance Me Outside”, all released over 15 years ago.
âThat’s about all we had to count on,â she said. “There really was nothing else to watch.”
This is starting to change. âRutherford Falls,â a sitcom airing on Peacock, features juicy roles for Jana Schmieding and Michael Greyeyes, both playing Native Americans desperately trying to teach the Ed Helms character their heritage. Ava DuVernay (“Selma”) is preparing a drama for NBC about an Indigenous family fighting for the future of their tribe.
Harjo and Waititi are proud to be part of this developing trend.
âWe want indigenous children to be able to watch this show and see themselves reflected on the screen,â Harjo said.