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‘Groundbreaking’ Native TV series debuts on AMC

Zahn McClarnon, left, and Kiowa Gordon play tribal police officers in the series. (AMC Facebook)

Another mainstream television series has been added to a growing list of Native-led productions.

“Dark Winds” is based on a book series by Tony Hillerman and is described as a psychological thriller that follows two Navajo police officers in the 1970s Southwest. The officers search for clues in a grisly double murder case that force them to challenge their own spiritual beliefs and come to terms with the trauma of their pasts.

The show was created and executive produced by Graham Roland (Chickasaw Nation) and stars Zahn McClarnon (Hunkpapa – Lakota), Kiowa Gordon (Hualapai) and Jessica Matten (Red River Metis-Cree). Chris Eyre (Cheyenne/Arapaho) serves as director and executive producer. All five took part in a virtual roundtable June 7 hosted by the Native American Journalists Association to promote the series. The show aired the first of six episodes June 12 on AMC.

“Dark Winds” is part of a recent surge of Hollywood TV productions like “Rutherford Falls and “Reservation Dogs” that feature Native Americans in front of the camera and behind it. The cast and crew of “Dark Winds is 85% Native American and 70% of the show’s debut season was shot on Tesuque Pueblo and Cochiti Pueblo in New Mexico.

“As a Native American I grew up in a time when Native stories had a white character; [stories were] done through a white character’s point of view,” Roland said. “This one is told through Native American characters.”

While based on Hillerman’s books, the writers on the show are Diné (Navajo) – a milestone itself.

“We were looking to the Native writing staff and their experiences and taking our lead from them,” Roland said.

Through the journeys of the tribal police characters, the show broaches Indian Country issues like forced sterilization, forced assimilation and racism.

“Having control over our own stories is important and we’re getting control now,” Zahn, who plays one of the police officers, said. “It’s a great step toward seeing Natives and their experience as normal. It allows the audiences to see that Native culture is American culture [and] is American history.”

Eyre said the show is proof of a shift that’s taking place in Hollywood.

“It’s groundbreaking,” Eyre said. “People are paying attention to Indigenous stories and talent.”

Eyre said he’s hopeful for a second season to be approved. For now, season one and its six episodes are available on AMC and AMC+. More information is at amc.com.

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Damon Scott
Damon is a multimedia journalist for the Seminole Tribune. He has previously been an editor and reporter for digital and print media in Florida and his home state of New Mexico. Send him an email at damonscott@semtribe.com.
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