Streaming opened up opportunities for indigenous creatives to tell their stories, but the cancellation of Peacock’s “Rutherford Falls” shows how hard it is to find new shows
That wave also includes Netflix’s “Spirit Rangers,” an animated fantasy series for preschoolers about three Native American siblings who can turn into animal spirits, and A&E’s “Dark Winds,” is an adaptation of Tony Hillman’s bestselling series of thriller novels based on the Navajo reservation. , Marvel’s upcoming “Echo,” a “Hawkeye” spin-off on Disney+, is also an Origins-themed show using Native writers.
“Reservation Dogs,” whose third season is set to premiere in August, is the only TV show ever to feature all Indigenous writers and directors.
“There’s still some progress to be made, but this is definitely the highest quantity we’ve ever seen and the highest quality we’ve ever seen,” said Jessica McIver, director of pop culture and media. Enlightened, a social and racial justice organization led by an Indigenous woman.
But whether Indigenous representation will continue to improve at a similar or greater pace is a question mark.
Taylor Ornelas, a Navajo and Mexican American screenwriter, “can’t say” why Peacock canceled “Rutherford Falls”, but said that the ending may have been due to a number of factors, including the fact that Peacock There was “a whole lot of new networks” born during the pandemic.
“We were one of the first shows to go into production during the pandemic and it was such an uncertain time, especially for streaming” networks, she said.
In addition to relatively few people using the new Peacock streaming service in 2021, “Rutherford Falls” was more cerebral than “Reservation Dogs” and thus attracted a younger audience, said an associate professor of history and Native American and indigenous studies Lisa Black said. Indiana University and citizen of the Cherokee Nation.
“Rutherford Falls,” she said, “was asking questions about history, about presentation, about dating, about race… I think it asked more of you.” Black said she was “very sad” when the show ended after two seasons.
He and Taylor Ornellas weren’t the only ones to cancel “Rutherford Falls,” which starred Helms, Jan Schmiding and Michael Griese.
“It felt like losing a family member,” said McIver, a member of the Cherokee Nation.
She said that she would love to see the show portray modern love stories and original joy in a light-hearted and fun way, as opposed to typical period pieces or dramas involving indigenous characters.
The new wave of shows confront harsh environments. Black said streaming services are canceling shows left and right — especially if they don’t have what they consider to be a strong debut.
“I think unless it immediately gets both a quantitatively large audience and significant social media traction, they tend to cut it off, and I think that’s really frustrating for people,” she said. Said.
But Taylor Ornelas believes her team’s phenomenal work will make it easier for the next Native person to come up with a TV show.
She also says that the cancellation of “Rutherford Falls” should not be used as any sort of barometer for the future, as many shows today are not renewed for more than one season.
“I think if you look at my shows, and ‘Reservation Dogs,’ and a lot of shows that are coming up, like ‘Echo,’ they’re so different, and they’re so diverse because we have an infinite amount of stories to tell. ,” Taylor Ornelas said. “And so, for me, it’s not so much about how long things last. How long can we collectively continue with this?”
FX, which makes “Reservation Dogs” for Hulu, renewed the show one last time for a third season.
McEver said shows like “Reservation Dogs,” “Rutherford Falls” and “Dark Winds” put Native creatives in positions of power. In addition, they are using Native consultants to help ground the show in authenticity and tribal uniqueness, which helps eliminate “invisibility in a really interesting way”.
Protests at Standing Rock, the toppling of dozens of Christopher Columbus statues and the collective response to the brutal 2020 killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer helped put the BIPOC movement in the spotlight. Experts said that contributed to the progress seen in Native representation over the years. The longstanding efforts of indigenous creatives to tell their stories and the need for new content to feed streaming services also played a role.
Indiana University’s Black said “all these officers were scared to death in 2020” and eager to boost their anti-racist credentials.
Between the 2021 and 2022 TV seasons, Indigenous lead recurring roles increased by 100%, according to Nielsen’s “Being Seen on Screen” report released in January. However, according to the 2022 Hollywood Diversity Report, Native representation in on-air roles in broadcast, cable and digital was still less than 1%.
Taylor Ornelas recently sold a pilot for a workplace comedy/mockumentary called “City Indians” to NBC. He co-wrote it with two other Native artists, Bobby Wilson and Jackie Celia.
“I’m really excited to see if we can find a home for that show because I think it’s a progression of original comedy that I really enjoy,” said Taylor Ornelas, noting that She hopes to hear back from the network once the writers’ strike ends.
Meanwhile, “Reservation Dogs” co-creator and showrunner Sterling Harjo still can’t believe the wild success of the FX show, which has earned multiple nominations and awards.
The contemporary coming-of-age comedy about four Native teenagers on a reservation, based on Harjo’s life growing up in rural Oklahoma, won Peabody Awards, Gotham Awards, and American Film Institute nominations as one of the Top 10 TV Shows. is selected. of 2022.
After decades of media misrepresentation, Harjo said, “Finally, Native peoples have something that really reflects the reality of our lives and people have responded to that – and fortunately, not only Native peoples Even people outside that community recognize it.
Harjo said he would love to make more seasons of “Reservoir Dogs” as he enjoys creating the show with co-creator Taika Waititi. They also hope to go out on their own terms, he said, and wrap it up when they feel “the time is right.”
He also believes that what we are seeing now with Native representation on TV is only the beginning. He said that in addition to the zeitgeist of the time and the recognition that indigenous peoples face significant challenges in the modern world, the success of “Reservation Dogs” is partly due to audiences looking for something new.
“People have been fighting for this for a long time and it’s really breaking a big rock,” Harjo said. ‘We’ve just made enough holes in the rock that we can break through.