Cable TV's Efforts to Produce Authentic Native American Stories

AMC's Dark Winds

With Native American Heritage Month getting started, it's important to not only celebrate Native American culture and history, but to embrace entertainment and programming that continually speak to diversity and inclusion. 

Why It's Important: As NCTA President & CEO Michael Powell said at the Kaitz Dinner last month, "For too long, we have left Black and Brown people out of our stories, out of our history, or worse, portrayed them as lesser human beings. It is a tragedy we are all working to address as we work towards diversity and inclusion." He added, "We must continue the hard work of drafting inclusive stories where all of us can be seen."

What's Being Done: Cable TV networks strive to not only do away with these false and harmful media portrayals, but also to showcase authentic stories that speak to the heart and soul of different cultural communities and demographics. 

The only way to do that is to ensure diversity in the writers' room, among the cast, and in the executive ranks so that everyone can have a seat at the table. This is why the cable programmer community continues its efforts towards recruiting talent from underrepresented groups of people to share their stories. 

Spotlighting Authentic Native American Stories: In the spirit of celebrating Native American Heritage Month, here are three shows that exemplify the industry's ongoing efforts to elevate the voices of Native Americans through authentic storytelling and multifaceted, compelling portrayals of this diverse demographic. 

  • AMC's "Dark Winds"

The crime drama, which is mostly made up of actors, writers, and production staff with Navajo heritage, premiered this past summer and tells the story of two Navajo police officers in the 1970s Southwest. 
"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," said Zahn McClarnon, the actor who plays the lead role of Joe Leaphorn and serves as an executive producer on the show. 

  • FX's "Reservation Dogs"

The comedy and coming-of-age show, set in Oklahoma on the Muscogee Nation reservation, is made up of all indigenous writers and directors behind the scenes. The co-producers, Seminole filmmaker Sterlin Harjo and New Zealander Taika Waititi with Maroi descent, set out with the goal to find and cast actors from Native American communities. 
"The talent is there. It just doesn't happen to be on Hollywood Boulevard," said Harjo. 

  • Peacock's "Rutherford Falls"

This was the first show to have an Indigenous showrunner when it premiered in 2021, with Sierra Teller Ornelas at the helm. In creating the fictional town of the show, the writers conducted extensive research and visited reservations and towns throughout New York state to lend authenticity to the plot and to the characters. 

Ornelas also went to great lengths to ensure diversity of Native American writers on the show in order to help convey the show's characters as three dimensional. "A lot of times you'll see on a show there's one type of person and they have to represent their whole community," said Ornelas.