“I think our Indigenous communities – how we’ve survived is through laughter. There’s a lot of bad shit that happened to us at the hands of the U.S. Government and other governments but we survived partially because of our humor,” Harjo said during a TCA panel on Wednesday.
Harjo and Waititi joined the stars of the upcoming FX comedy – D’Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai, Paulina Alexis, Devery Jacbos and Lane Factor – to reflect on authentic storytelling, casting and more. Set to debut August 9, Reservation Dogs follows the exploits of four Indigenous teenagers in rural Oklahoma who steal, rob and save in order to get to the exotic, mysterious and faraway land of California.
Harjo and Waititi kicked off the conversation sharing that humor was always at the center of the project, which takes inspiration from their own experiences growing up in different Indigenous communities. Harjo is a member of the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma and Waititi is of Māori descent.
“All the stories we would tell were funny, they were never sad and depressing, which are the only stories that ever get told about Native people,” Harjo said.
“All of the stories we shared from when we were growing up, they seemed exactly the same. We had similar uncles in our communities, aunties and family members and we both grew up with pop culture mixed with our own culture,” Waititi added.
With dramatic paintball scenes, homages to Quentin Tarantino and cheeky jokes about Indigenous superstitions, the series moves far away from the often somber and stoic depictions of Native Americans. As is often the case with stories about marginalized communities, projects can play so heavily on hackneyed stereotypes and cultural clichés, or even end in devastation for BIPOC characters.
“Now we don’t want to tell stories like that, we don’t want to depress people. There’s so much humor in our communities, so many jokes,” Waititi said. “All they want to do is see us riding whales, talking to the trees, playing flutes on mountaintops and talking to ghosts and learning something from our grandmother. To subvert expectations is such a powerful thing.”
From the all Indigenous writers’ room to the all Native American starring cast, Reservation Dogs make space for talent that has often been left out of the narrative. Though the series takes inspiration from common experiences on the reservation, Harjo shared that the show’s humor can open up a new world for non-Native watchers. Citing a character that spoofs the stereotypical image of a long-haired, shirtless Native American man on horseback, Harjo said Reservation Dogs allows audiences to laugh at and learn from their own, possibly problematic, perceptions of Indigenous communities.
“It’s letting non-Natives into the room and going ‘look what you thought we were’ and we’re showing all this other stuff. Then they laugh and they laugh with us,” Harjo said. “It’s actually honoring our past too because we actually were like that at one point. It’s poking fun at the stereotype and acknowledging the truths in that, and also allowing non-Native audiences in on the joke.”
Reservation Dogs is executive produced by Harjo, Waititi and Garrett Basch and produced by FX Productions.
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