With a team almost entirely made up of Native creatives, what’s the show’s most innovative storytelling element? According to them, it’s the simple fact that “Reservation Dogs” has a sense of humor.
“TV and streaming is not as afraid as feature films have been to let us tell stories with Native lead actors,” Harjo told Variety at the “Reservation Dogs” premiere at NeueHouse Hollywood. “I think it’s perfect for the show that we’re doing. To let this story unfold in a way that helps us break out of the old molds of what a Native story is. It really lets us shake the frost off and take it to new places.”
Zahn McClarnon, the “Westworld” and “Longmire” actor who plays police officer Big in “Reservation Dogs,” concurred. “There’s a different vibe on the reservation in the way we share our humor,” he said. “[Now], we’ve got a space to show the world. There’s a lot more than just the mysticism and all the ‘wise Indian’ stuff. One of the things that ties our community together is humor.”
Sydney Freeland, a transgender director who helped episodes 2 and 4, shared another way she hopes the show might push Hollywood boundaries. “It is a goal of ours for sure,” she said about including trans representation in “Reservation Dogs” if they get picked up for a second season. “We have had many, many conversations in the writers room about that, specifically.”
On a similar note, Devery Jacobs, who plays Elora Danan, emphasized the importance of seeing varied images of Indigenous people’s lives. “We are not a monolith,” she said. “I come from the Mohawk Nation. D’Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai is Oji-Cree and Guyanese. Paulina Alexis is from the Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation. Lane Factor is from the Muscogee Creek, Caddo and Seminole Nations. We’re all coming from these different perspectives and different backgrounds and cultures, but we’ve all come together to try and portray Sterlin’s upbringing and his community in the most respectful light possible.”
Jacobs’ castmates see her as a role model. “I used to watch her when I was a little kid,” said Paulina Alexis, who plays Willie Jack. “She did [“Rhymes for Young Ghouls”] with my brother [Nathan Alexis] when I was, like, 12. I remember seeing her on TV and being like, ‘Oh my god, I wanna do that one day.’ And now I’m here working with her? That’s crazy.” “If I have a question, I can always ask her or D’Pharaoh,” added Lane Factor, who plays Cheese.
D’Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai, who plays Bear Smallhill, had already worked with Alexis before this show, playing her brother in the 2020 TIFF standout “Beans.” In “Reservation Dogs,” he said found all the creative collaborators he needs: “Hopefully I get to work with every single person here again. That’s my idea. I mean, I don’t really want to work with anyone else.”