Newsies: August 10, 2021 Edition

Welcome to Newsies, a twice-a-week column dedicated to entertainment & pop culture news, retrospectives, and discoveries. Today we give the spotlight to Indigenous, Native filmmakers in celebration of “Reservation Dogs” on FX.

Lebron James and Netflix Play “Rez Ball”

Filmmaker Sydney Freeland

Netflix has greenlit Rez Ball, co-scripted and directed by Sydney Freeland (Deidra & Laney Rob a Train); Sterlin Harjo (Reservation Dogs) also co-wrote the screenplay. The film is inspired by the novel Canyon Dreams, written by novelist Michael Powell. Mauricio and Katie Mota produce alongside Lebron James and Maverick Carter’s The SpringHill Company (Space Jam: A New Legacy).

The story follows the Chuska Warriors, a Native American high school basketball team from Chuska, New Mexico that must band together after losing their star player, if they want to keep their quest for a state championship alive. It’s an all-American underdog story about Navajo kids and coaches, told from the inside-out.

According to the press release:

Rez Ball aims to be a love letter to the contributions Native Americans have made to basketball and also a launchpad for Native talent both in front of and behind the camera, ready to make their mark in the industry. We want this to be a blueprint for how to balance excellent storytelling with impact and pipeline development, said Moya”

Production will be filmed on New Mexico reservations with the permission and support of local sovereign tribal nations.

Director Freeland added:

“Basketball on the Rez is like high school football in West Texas. It has a fanatical following that few sports can rival. I’m also excited to be working with Sterlin Harjo on this. He has brought so much insight, humor, and heart to this story. This is a story that’s commonplace on Indian reservations all over the US, but most people aren’t even aware it exists. What we want to do is bring people into our world, to tell a story about the people and places we know, and what better way to do that than through a sports movie? We want to tell a story that is authentic to the place and people, told from the inside-out. We are so excited with the team we’ve assembled and can’t wait to bring this to the screen.”

Reservation Dogs Review Round-Up

FX on Hulu premiered Reservation Dogs, a new slice of life comedy from Sterlin Harjo and Taika Waititi. The comedy focuses on four Indigenous teenagers as they fight crime and scheme their way through life in rural Oklahoma.

Watch Reservation Dogs here – https://www.hulu.com/series/reservation-dogs-5a310c23-e2db-4c9f-a66c-27c2fee43d92

Shea Vassar, a Cherokee First Nation (ᏣᎳᎩ) critic for RogerEbert.com writes:

“The release of Rutherford Falls on Peacock earlier this year was the first Native-involved sitcom that inspired similar understated commentary as it showed Indigenous characters in everyday scenarios. Many of the creatives involved with that show can also be found among the credits of “Reservation Dogs.” For example Sydney Freeland directed several episodes on both series; Tazbah Chavez wrote on both shows and directed her first television episode for Reservation Dogs; and Jana Schmieding wrote and starred in Rutherford Falls and has a brilliant cameo in the second episode of Reservation Dogs. This overlap is just evidence of the blossoming Indigenous filmmaking community that is helping make up for lost time in an industry that has so purposely excluded us in front of and behind the camera… 

Reservation Dogs is the definition of authentic storytelling. The first four episodes capture the intangible feeling and nuanced truth that is specific to the Oklahoma Native experience unlike anything that has aired prior. Here’s to all the Indigenous kids who will watch this show and feel the joy of representation. Skoden!” 

Allison Herrera, a Xolon Salinan Indigenous Affairs reporter for KOSU writes:

“I’ve known Harjo for five years now, and full disclosure: I’ve done some work with his former company Fire Thief Productions. So, I’ve heard him tell some of the stories that he includes in Reservation Dogs. They’re based on his childhood experiences growing up in Holdenville on the Seminole Nation reservation. Like a scene where one of the tribal police officers finds rocks in people’s mailboxes. It’s based on something that happened to Harjo’s uncle Junior — who found rocks in his mailbox.

“He thought somebody put a curse on him, like put bad medicine on him by putting these rocks in his mailbox,” laughed Harjo.

Harjo has a lot of those stories, and he’s peppered them throughout all of his narrative films. Like in Four Sheets to the Wind, about uprooting himself from his small town and moving to Tulsa, and Mekko, about a Native man experiencing homelessness while gaining redemption from a past crime. Making those movies led up to setting Reservation Dogs in Oklahoma and showcasing his own Indigenous community for a wider audience.

“I think that for my narrative films, I just never had the budget to do what I needed to do to capture it,” said Harjo about the experiences and feelings he holds about Oklahoma. “To sell the magic that butts up against the reality in the stories, and Reservation Dogs has that.”

Jason Asenap, a Comanche and Muscogee Creek writer for Esquire reflects:

Reservation Dogs starts with a bang. The Muscogee radio DJ plays a song (we assume he is Muscogee because he says a long, drawn out “Mvto,” meaning “thank you” in Muscogee). We hear “I Wanna Be Your Dog,” a raucous, feral song by The Stooges. To viewers who aren’t Indigenous, I’m sure the dissonance is confusing as heck. I’m talking cultural dissonance, not the music itself. This isn’t spiritual flute music—what’s going on? But this is the point. Taika Waititi and Sterlin Harjo’s first episode of FX’s Reservation Dogs throws you without warning into the Indigenous waters of the Muscogee reservation in rural Oklahoma, and they fully expect you to sink or swim. You will swim, of course, not because your life depends on it, but because you want to see what comes next.”

Rutherford Falls News Roundup!

RUTHERFORD FALLS — Pictured: “Rutherford Falls” Key Art — (Photo by: NBCUniversal)

We’re wrapping up this Newsies edition by highlighting the Peacock comedy, Rutherford Falls, which follows best friends Nathan Rutherford (Ed Helms) and Reagan Wells (Jana Schmieding), as they find themselves at a crossroads when their sleepy town gets an unexpected wake-up call.

The show, which features one of the largest Indigenous writers rooms on television, recently received a season two renewal. Additionally, Rutherford Falls co-creator, executive producer, and writer Sierra Teller Ornelas just extended her overall deal with Universal TV, the studio behind the show. Cool news!

Watch Rutherford Falls here – https://www.peacocktv.com/stream-tv/rutherford-falls

What are your favorite pieces of indigenous/native media? Personally I recently dug Blood Quantum from filmmaker Jeff Barnaby.