×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

‘Yellowstone’ Creator, Cast Talk Advancing Native American Representation

Paramount Network’s “Yellowstone” is looking to change the stereotypical representation of Native Americans on its show, forgoing the usual whooping savage portrayal, according to Crow Nation tribal chairman AJ Not Afraid, who allowed the show to be filmed on his reservation. He described the series to be a more honest, accurate portrayal of the modern American Indian that we’ve seen before.

“Our perception had always been more stereotypical, but here the folks at the show came out and reckoned the terrain and the people, and they got a better taste of the native side,” Not Afraid told Variety at the series premiere held at the Paramount Theatre on Monday.

Yellowstone,” which premieres June 20, is a modern-day western about a ranching family struggling to protect its land from land developers, an energy company and a Native American reservation.

Not Afraid said he initially had reservations when writer and director Taylor Sheridan and the show’s producers reached out and asked to film on his Montana reservation.

“At first, we assumed it was going to be a cowboy/Indian typical back-in-the-1800s type, so we were skeptical of it,” Not Afraid said. “But we said we would allow it as long as we had the chance to portray some of the Native facts, and they were all for it.”

As a result, Not Afraid and Sheridan said they collaborated to create an authentic portrayal of native life in America, utilizing local advisory teams to help explain reservation and native culture.

“How they portray them is a lot more realistic than other shows,” Not Afraid added.

Gil Birmingham, an actor on the show of Comanche ancestry, said Hollywood’s portrayal of Native Americans has improved significantly despite the recent whitewashing of Tonto in the “Lone Ranger” reboot in 2013.

“We definitely still have a ways to go, but the opportunities are presenting themselves, so it’s certainly gotten better,” Birmingham said.

'Yellowstone' TV show premiere
CREDIT: Rob Latour/Variety/REX/Shutterstock

Birmingham plays casino owner and tribal chair Thomas Rainwater. In the show, Rainwater grew up in Colorado to adoptive parents believing himself to be Mexican. When he learns of his Native American ancestry, he strives to earn a college education and buy back the land that once belonged to his tribe through business and politics.

“I think Taylor so brilliantly established a character that’s empowered with education, and a means by which he can operate within the guidelines of a system that’s been structured and empowered that character to be able to operate and reclaim the resources that have been belonged to him for centuries,” Birmingham said.

“Yellowstone” star Kevin Costner said despite the demand for more inclusivity in both casts and the stories they tell, he isn’t worried about being able to continue to portray lawmen and the average working white man.

“I’ve always tried to diversify my career, whether it be playing a serial killer or someone in a period piece, but I don’t know those roles ever fall out of fashion,” Costner said. “I don’t play superheroes, maybe there was a time 30 years ago I could’ve played Superman, all I’d be now is his dad.”

The authenticity also extends past the camera lenses into the musical score. “Yellowstone” composer Brian Tyler, who once worked and performed in a Native American musical group, said he worked hard to blend his knowledge of traditional Native American music with the melting pot of western cultures in his score.

“What I ended up doing was finding ways to incorporate some of the percussion, some of the woodwinds, some of the instrumentation and weave it into things like cellos, basses, cimbaloms and all these exotic instruments,” Tyler said.

Right before the pilot’s premiere, Sheridan thanked Not Afraid and others for attending and being his advisors, to which the audience responded with applause.

“Thank you for allowing me to tell a story, to shoot on your land and for all the guidance and advise, thank you very much,” he said.

“Yellowstone” premieres June 20 at 9 p.m. on Paramount Network.

More TV

  • Netflix Our Planet Sophie Darlington

    Netflix's 'Our Planet' Roars to Life With Work by Top Wildlife Cinematographers

    In terms of scope, production time and — very likely — budget, Netflix’s “Our Planet” is one of the most ambitious projects from the streaming service to date. Narrated by David Attenborough and made available worldwide on April 5, the goal of the eight-part series is to capture diverse habitats across the globe and highlight [...]

  • Vic Mignogna Sues Funimation and Other

    Vic Mignogna Sues Funimation, Other Voice Actors For Defamation

    Vic Mignogna, known for voicing Broly in the “Dragon Ball” series of games, films, and tv shows, filed a lawsuit claiming defamation and other charges against Funimation and other voice actors on Thursday, according to public court documents. Fellow Funimation voice actors Monica Rial and Jamie Marchi, along with Rial’s fiance Ronald Toye, are also [...]

  • Natalie Morales76th Annual Golden Globe Awards,

    Natalie Morales to Exit 'Access Hollywood' and 'Access Live' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Natalie Morales is bowing out of NBC’s “Access Hollywood” and “Access Live” after three years as co-host of the daily entertainment news programs. Morales will continue working for NBC News as West Coast anchor for “Today” and as a correspondent for “Dateline.” Her departure comes a month after “Access” underwent an executive producer shuffle with [...]

  • CBS News Sets Global 'Earth Matters'

    CBS News Sets Global 'Earth Matters' Reporting Effort for Earth Day

    CBS News is sending correspondents to far corners of the earth for an all-day “Earth Matters” reporting effort to kick off Monday on “CBS This Morning.” To coincide with Earth Day, five correspondents will be spread among five continents to offer in-depth reports on environmental issues and the politics in the U.S. surrounding the response [...]

  • JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE: GAME NIGHT -

    Jimmy Kimmel Sets 'All in the Family,' 'The Jeffersons' Live Special on ABC

    Jimmy Kimmel’s long-gestating live sitcom special is finally coming to fruition. Kimmel announced Thursday night on his ABC late-night show that the special, which was first announced in May 2017, will air Wednesday, May 22, from 8-9:30 p.m. ET. The special will see a cast of celebrity guests recreating two classic episodes of the sitcoms [...]

  • WGA Agency Packaging Fight Placeholder Writer

    WGA: 92% of Writers Who Signed Statement of Support Have Fired Agents

    The Writers Guild of America estimated that over 92% of their members who support a new code of conduct for talent agencies have fired those representatives. Letters announcing formal termination will be delivered on Monday, the guild said in a late-hitting memo on Thursday, as most agencies will be closed tomorrow in observance of Good [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content