'Reservation Dogs' Is A Game Changer For Indigenous Representation On TV
In the new comedy series 'Reservation Dogs', four Indigenous teens in rural Oklahoma are desperate for a new life in California. Native critic Vincent Schilling calls the show "ground breaking."
NOEL KING, HOST:
Four restless, rebellious teenagers are up to no good in "Reservation Dogs." It's a new comedy show. They live on a Native American reservation in rural Oklahoma, and they are desperate to get out.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "RESERVATION DOGS")
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) ...You're good thieves - best in town.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) Come on. Thank you.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) It is a small town.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As character) We could be in California as soon as two months.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #4: (As character) California, here we come.
KING: Critics are calling it a groundbreaking series for Indigenous representation, but it did take a minute for Vincent Schilling. He's a Native journalist and a critic for Rotten Tomatoes.
VINCENT SCHILLING: Part of me was just kind of like a little bit fearful of how Native youth could be regarded. You know, we face so much stereotype anyway. So I was a little hesitant in seeing that. So a couple little bells went up in my mind.
KING: And then you watched it. And what'd you think?
SCHILLING: I was blown away of the beauty and sincerity and magic of this show. This is the real world of Native gangs, stealing and childhood innocence brought face-to-face with the reality of survival on a Native reservation in Oklahoma. And it's reality without becoming poverty porn. This could only have been told by someone who grew up on the rez, knows all of the - I don't what other to call it than almost, like, Native or Indigenous Easter eggs, you know, that they always say in the...
KING: What's one?
SCHILLING: You know...
KING: What's something I wouldn't notice that you would?
SCHILLING: Well, there's - now the episodes hasn't happened yet, but there's a scene where they see an owl. And they're like, oh - oh, gosh, oh gosh. And then Sterlin Harjo even, like, pixelizes the eyes of the owl.
KING: Sterlin Harjo is the creator of the series.
SCHILLING: Yeah - because in many Native cultures, the owl is a harbinger of evil (laughter). So...
SCHILLING: And you wouldn't know that, you know, unless...
KING: No, no.
SCHILLING: ...You're involved in the Native community. And you know, just the interactions between everyone was so genuine. And it was just like - watching the show is like coming home and seeing your family again.
KING: You mention Sterlin Harjo, the creator of the series. He grew up on a reservation in Oklahoma. Is that right?
SCHILLING: In Oklahoma, yeah. And he is so well-versed in the world that he grew up in that it appears as though they just walked in with a camera, put it on a tripod and said go. You know, that's how it looks to me.
KING: What do you think people who haven't been on a reservation might learn from this? And what is something that they might take away that's unexpected or maybe that worries you? Like, is there anything that goes through your head when you think, people might be seeing a reservation for the first time in this show?
SCHILLING: Yeah. Oh, people are going to be seeing a reservation for the first time, absolutely. And this is a show about resilience of Native people who are still here - because I was told one time at an event on Native American Heritage Day and a woman walked up and said, I thought all the Native Americans were dead.
KING: Oh, dear...
SCHILLING: So yes, it will be the first time people have seen this stuff. And I think it's going to open up an entire world of saying, why haven't we heard these stories before? I think people are going to want to hear more stories 'cause Native people and Native culture are storytellers for the most part.
KING: Vincent Schilling, a Native journalist and a critic for Rotten Tomatoes. Thanks for taking the time. We appreciate it.
SCHILLING: Hey, thanks so much for having me.
(SOUNDBITE OF KHADIJEH KALAYEH AND ALEKSANDRA KUZINA'S "BIG BEEF AND BROCCOLI TRAP") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.