AMC’s “Dark Winds” Features Native American Perspectives, On and Off the Screen

AMC'S latest hit "Dark Winds" follows Navajo police officers investigating crimes in the 1970s in Navajo Nation

This summer, AMC and AMC+ premiered “Dark Winds,” an adaptation of the Leaphorn & Chee novel series written by Tony Hillerman. The series follows two Navajo police officers, Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee, in the 1970s southwest as they investigate a series of crimes plaguing Navajo Nation. At the Television Critics Association (TCA) press tour earlier this year, the team behind AMC’s latest hit talked about what the series meant to them and how they hoped the project would resonate with audiences in a way that westerns hadn’t before.

“Dark Winds” has been decades in the making as Robert Redford purchased the film rights to the series in 1988. However, as he stated throughout the years, he had trouble getting financing for an adaptation that would employ a full cast of Native actors as well as pay them what they were due. Though Redford has adapted different parts of the series via four different projects in the past, AMC’s greenlighting of the series marks the first time the novels have been adapted as a serial with the resources to bring it all to a new audience.

The series also marks the first time in decades that filming of this scale has been permitted in Monument Valley, which is located in the sovereign Navajo Nation. The director John Ford put Monument Valley on the map when he included it to audiences in his groundbreaking “Stagecoach” in 1939, and ever since the natural wonder has captivated audiences around the globe. What’s less well known, however, is that Monument Valley lies in the heart of Navajo Nation, and is an important cultural heritage site to the Navajo people. While John Ford did develop a special bond with the community during the productions of many of his films between the 1930s and 1960s, Redford wanted to do more. As Executive Producer Graham Roland noted to press at TCA, “I love a lot of those movies. But often times the Native American parts were not even Native American actors.”

That’s why “Dark Winds” not only tells the story of a Navajo police officer, but the writers, actors, and production staff are mostly members of the Navajo Nation, a perspective that has historically been underrepresented.

“What I hope to see from ‘Dark Winds’ is just more doors opening, not only for indigenous talent in front of the camera, but also behind the camera,” noted Zahn McClarnon, the actor who plays the lead role of Joe Leaphorn and serves as an executive producer on the show. “And I think we're kind of in a unique time right now with Native representation in media. And I'm glad to be a part of it and I'm excited to see what ‘Dark Winds’ does in opening more of those doors.”

The show has been a huge success for AMC. Before the final episodes of the first season had even aired, the series was picked up for a second season to air in 2023. “Dark Winds” has also been a critical success, boasting a 100% fresh rating from critics on the website Rotten Tomatoes.

The final two episodes of the first season will premiere on July 10th and July 17th, and episodes are available to stream on AMC+.