It seems almost like boom time for American Indian actors these days, and it couldn’t happen at a better time. The year-long battle against the COVID-19 virus has taken a big bite out of a lot of major movies on the slate for film producers.
It may be just a coincidence but one of the positive things to come out of the restricted travel and personal contact measures just may be the new category of the mini-series. That has called for smaller casts and crew, but a lot of dependence on post-production and computer generation.
More to the point, there are many more Indigenous actors finding work these days in many new and upcoming educational mini-series’ examining the real, unvarnished bloody path through American and Canadian history, from a Native People’s perspective.
TV watching has become the most important pass-time for those under the COVID restrictions, and at the same time, much more accurate historical documentaries and drama’s are being watched by mainstream America and Canada.
But there is also a lot of opportunities for American Indian actors, writers and producers launching comedies that can use typical Native comedic irony to teach and preserve the culture and humour, in today’s world situations.
We have already written about the power of the historical mini-series, Exterminate All the Brutes, and the hit comedy, Resident Alien.
To that, we add another comedy that draws upon the Indigenous humour of Native writers and the creative input of Native actors, directors, producers and behind the camera technicians.
The new comedy series, Rutherford Falls, showcases many such talented artists including stand-up comedian, Jana Schmieding, who plays an urban raised and educated young career woman wrestling between a lucrative career in local politics and her growing awareness of her Nativeness.
According to the advance media release on the series: The series centres on two friends: Nathan Rutherford, played by Helms, is trying to protect an inconveniently-located statue of the town’s founding father, “Big Larry” Rutherford. His childhood friend Reagan Wells, played by Jana Schmieding, struggles to keep a cultural centre dedicated to the area’s indigenous people afloat.”
“I feel like Native people in the media, especially, always get these calls from people who are like, ‘we’re shooting this film in an hour and there is a Native American in it, can you read it and tell me it’s OK?’,” says writer/ producer Sierra Teller Ornelas. “You never get a call from two incredibly funny kind people who are like, ‘Hey, we have half an idea — do you want to come and create something with us?'”
Ornelas has also written for Superstore, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Selfie and Happy Endings. She’s is now, co-creator of the new comedy series Rutherford Falls, along with Mike Schur and Ed Helms.
In addition to her career as an accomplished television writer, writer and producer Sierra Teller Ornelas is a sixth-generation Navajo weaver.
The series also features veteran Indigenous actor, Michael Greyeyes, (Nêhiyaw from Muskeg Lake Cree Nation, Saskatchewan) who plays the C.E.O. of the Minishonka’s casino, who envisions big things for both the town of Rutherford Falls, and the success of their Nation. When an old document is produced which shows a joint agreement between old Mr. Rutherford and the Greyeyes’ Native Nation, he uses it as a tool to help enrich his Nation.
It really is funny, in a Native sort of way, which is not that dissimilar to typical Canadian humour at large, so everyone can get in on the laughs, but packed into the humour is a great deal of real history making it a fun show that will teach something the viewer maybe didn’t know. In that, Rutherford Falls excels.
Indigenous writer/producer, Sierra Teller Omedlas, is sitting on a new hit series, Rutherford Falls. Half of the cast and writers are Indigenous bringing a real taste of ironic Indigenous humour. Photo Provided
Rutherford Falls stars many Indigenous writers and actors and will keep you laughing and maybe even learning a little about rez life. Photo Provided