FX on Hulu Dogs Reservation could have the most exciting cast of breakout artists of the year. Featured in August, the grim, comedic tale follows four teenagers growing up on an Oklahoma reservation as they prepare their way – through petty criminal follies, including hijacking a snack delivery truck and robbery. copper – from the ground floor to sunny California in honor of their late friend Daniel, who longed to head west to start anew. Leading the pack is Elora Danan, played with quiet intensity by Devery Jacobs, who recounts THR that she “needed to be a part of the show” when she first heard about the project created by Oscar-winning actress Taika Waititi and showrunner Sterlin Harjo.
Told from a uniquely Indigenous perspective, the series stings clichés throughout its eight-episode first season, many of which stem from how whites have portrayed Indigenous peoples in pop culture for a century. Jacobs and his co-star Dallas Goldtooth, who plays a mischievous appearance named Spirit, spoke to THR about the unsung power of Indigenous storytelling, why humor can be such an effective healing mechanism, and their excitement about joining the writers’ room for season two.
Sterlin Harjo said he immediately bonded with Taika Waititi during their similar experiences, despite coming from very different parts of the world. Devery, you come from Canada and play a character who lives on a reservation in Oklahoma. Is there a shortcut among indigenous communities around the world because of what you have in common?
DEVERY JACOBS One of the reasons [Watiti’s 2010 film] Boy is one of my favorite movies of all time because [the characters] are all like family at home – except they all have kiwi accents. There is absolutely one thing in common between us, which ends up being Dogs Reservation so universal for indigenous peoples around the world. Having said that, we are also made up of many different languages, cultures, nations and territories. I grew up in the Mohawk territory of Kahnawà: ke, which was north of that colonial border that divided my nation in two. I don’t necessarily consider myself to be Canadian or American either – I consider myself to be Haudenosaunee. My nation is on both sides of this border.
The show also recontextualizes American pop culture in a very interesting way through an Indigenous perspective.
DALLAS DENT D’OR We can speak to a larger audience, but there is a double conversation going on here when we speak to people in our own diaspora: “We see you, you are part of it, we are building something together. I like that the show is a conversation about culture – how communities, which are on the fringes of society, assimilate culture, ingest it and make it part of who they are. The name itself, Dogs Reservation, is obviously a tribute to Reservoir dogs. We didn’t grow up seeing Indigenous content on TV. We have seen pop culture on television. And so we’re going to change that and make it our own.
JACOBS One of my favorite parts about being a part of the show is that it’s by indigenous people for our communities, and everyone can be made aware of the joke as well. That’s what ends up making him so specific and so funny. We don’t spoon feed the white audience, we don’t show who we are around white people. [Many films] have shown us in westerns or shown us as people who only exist in contrast to whites.
GOLDEN DENT We know how the outside world views Native Americans. We are fully aware of this. And we’ll take every opportunity to reverse that. There is an explicit aspiration to be a counter-narrative, but not to explain too much, as Devery said – not to explain everything, but to present something to make people think.
JACOBS One of the things with your character, Spirit, is that he holds up a mirror in front of the Western audience and questions his ideas about what he thinks an Indian or Native American looks like. There’s this old image of colonial contact with native men, and then it’s overturned by the Spirit which is sort of… I don’t know, how would you describe it? He’s pretty awkward.
GOLDEN DENT It’s definitely a goofball. We are dealing here with dualities at all levels and we also mirror ourselves. We must not continue to jump into the same storytelling mold that has been dictated by whites. We can tell our own stories on our own terms, take control of these clichés and do whatever we want with them.
Devery, your character has some rough times as well – especially when we learn that she was the person who found Daniel after his death.
JACOBS One of the things that rings the truest for me throughout the series is the use of humor. [Before] shows as Dogs Reservation Where [Peacock’s] Rutherford Falls, there were so few glimpses of aboriginal comedy and our biting gallows-type humor, the way we are able to weave heartbreaking and heartwarming moments together. Growing up, my mom always said, “If you don’t laugh, you’ll cry. And I think it’s so true for marginalized communities as a whole. I am as well queer as I am Mohawk, and I think that is also true for the queer community.
There’s a big shit that these kids go through, and there’s a real impact in the context. Daniel’s story isn’t just a TV plot point, it’s the story of many of our families and communities. The issue of suicide affects Indigenous people at the highest rates [compared with] any other group. It is a reality for us. But it’s not something that we sit around feeling sorry for ourselves. We are incredibly resilient people. And one of the ways we’re so resilient is our humor.
Dallas, is that how you approach your comedy?
GOLDEN DENT I’m in the grip of insecurities, and comedy is a way for me to deal with that and to understand myself better. It is a form of healing. Maybe mainstream society overlooks the power of comedy as a healing mechanism, but for marginalized communities comedy is a great way to let go of trauma and move forward. We deal with the pain, we deal with the traumas of the past – we don’t cling to it. I think we wouldn’t be here as aboriginal people if it weren’t for our ability to shed light on a situation.
You are both now writers for season two. I’m curious if you feel any pressure to speak on behalf of a global indigenous population and if this is a conversation you have had in the writers’ room.
GOLDEN DENT Sterlin always insists that we are not going to dwell on explaining identities. We’re just going to say it as it is and let people interpret it. There is a lot of power behind it. We don’t belittle it for the public – we encourage the public to be very critical and engage their minds on these things. It’s a historic first in a lot of ways, so obviously there’s going to be a lot of pressure to hit all the notes. Each of us in this room has brought a different aspect of Indian country to this space, whether in urban, Canadian, indigenous, garden level. You see a broad perspective, even though it’s specifically in this one community.
Are you excited to write for your own characters or is it more fun to think of things for your co-stars?
JACOBS Writing for the other characters is probably easier than writing for mine, because I feel so close to Elora Danan. I’m incredibly grateful to Sterlin for embracing all of the writers of different levels of experience and all of them Indigenous from different communities. The whole reason why Dogs Reservation exists because Taika Waititi opened the door to her peers and said, “Hey, let’s make a project together. It wasn’t because there was a huge demand in the industry to pick up a native creative and raise them to create their projects. They were native peers helping each other. As Dallas said, I hope this is the first in a long series – a whole industry of native designers.
Interview edited for length and clarity.
This story first appeared in a November independent issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, Click here to subscribe.