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Taika Waititi and Sterlin Harjo chat 'Reservation Dogs' and the importance of comedy in Indigenous stories

The cast of 'Reservation Dogs.'
(Image credit: FX)

"We have an all-Indigenous writers room," said Sterlin Harjo near the beginning of Reservation Dogs' TCA21 panel. It's a sentence that shouldn't be groundbreaking in 2021 when it comes to a show entirely about the Indigenous experience and yet my eyes widened a bit. It's statement that got even more exciting when we learned that creators Harjo and Taika Waititi had the full support of the network from the moment they pitched it. 

But there's more work to be done on a series of this scope than simply getting the right writers, something both creators are well aware of. For Harjo and Waititi, it was incredibly important that their story not be a tragedy. Of course these communities have faced unfathomable hardship, but the folks that Reservation Dogs is for already know that. These communities have seen the tragedies of their people again and again and again. It's that very fact that made the series being a comedy even more important. 

"Comedy first, and in the background you'll have some of the more serious things," Harjo notes discussing the vibe of the show. "That's how we've survived, is through laughter."

Waititi and Harjo come from different tribes from different sides of the world, but throughout their long friendship they've found that many of the experiences are the same. Both creators hope that those experiences connect with Indigenous viewers who haven't had the opportunity to see themselves on screen often. 

To get their cast — which features D'Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai, Devery Jacobs, Lane Factor, Paulina Alexis and more — casting directors Angelique Midthunder, Jennifer Schwalenberg, and Lisa Zambetti didn't stop their search at Hollywood. Instead, they reached out to tribes across America to get the right actors for the roles. When asked about the lack of representation and directors' typical commentary on an inability to find Indigenous actors for their roles, Harjo noted "The talent is there, it just doesn't happen to be on Hollywood Blvd." Waititi would go on to quip about how every few years there's a Western where they get to be tragically murdered, so there's not a lot of incentive for Native actors to stick around Los Angeles. 

Reservation Dogs premieres on FX on August 9th, 2021. It will be available to watch on Hulu the day after it airs live. 

Amelia Emberwing

Amelia Emberwing is the Entertainment Editor and lead critic here at What to Watch. She survives on a steady IV of caffeine, rants, pixie dust and fangirling, and will probably sass you. You can find her on Rotten Tomatoes as an individually approved critic. She's also a member of the Television Critics Association and GALECA.