Best-selling director Waititi shares native humor in ‘Reservation Dogs’

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Los Angeles (AFP)

Long before winning an Oscar or directing a Marvel superhero blockbuster, Taika Waititi had a recurring problem making films about his native Maori community in New Zealand.

“My early films were getting negative feedback about them because they said, ‘Well, there’s not enough cultural specificity’,” he recalls.

“And I was like – I get what’s going on. All they want to do is see us ride whales, talk to trees, flute on top of mountains and talk to ghosts, and learn something. our grandmother’s thing. And that’s it. “

Now, as one of Hollywood’s most requested directors, with “Thor: Ragnarok” and “Jojo Rabbit” under his belt and a “Star Wars” movie on the way, Waititi has the opportunity to “twist these. expectations “.

The result is “Reservation Dogs,” a darkly framed television comedy set in an indigenous town in rural Oklahoma, which Waititi co-created and wrote with Sterlin Harjo, a Seminole and Muscogee legacy filmmaker.

Airing on Hulu from Monday, it follows a group of Native American teens trying to scramble, steal, and bluff to get out of their hometown and to the land of their dreams – California.

While Waititi was born 7,000 miles (11,000 kilometers) in a different hemisphere, he and his longtime friend Harjo found that their stories of growing up in indigenous communities “sounded exactly the same.”

Part of it was an education that combined traditions passed down from generation to generation with “a solid diet of pop culture,” he told a recent Television Critics Association panel in Los Angeles.

“There is so much humor in our communities – so many pranksters,” said Waititi, who played a charismatic but buffoonish ex-convict in his acclaimed 2010 New Zealand film “Boy,” set in his own village. Maori from childhood and featuring members of his own family.

“Reservation Dogs” draws more on the experiences of Oklahoma-born Harjo, Waititi initially intending to direct but was content to write and “just to help put on the show”.

Between performing wise ceremonies and casting ancient curses on their enemies, his characters scribble graffiti, compare their number of Instagram followers and listen to hip-hop.

– ‘Uncoordinated warriors’ –

Like Waititi, Harjo was tired of being told by producers that “native films don’t sell” or that films couldn’t be made without famous actors.

Hollywood has very few stars of Indigenous descent, and most of the roles occasionally appear in westerns “where Indigenous actors come and get killed in front of a camp,” Harjo said.

Fortunately, “streaming and television have changed that,” he added.

A respected annual survey in April found that Hollywood had finally made major gains in the portrayal of minorities and women on screen, in large part due to the proliferation of low-budget streaming titles and postponed releases. in major studios during the pandemic.

Harjo has taken his casting director thousands of miles from Hollywood to indigenous communities like his in Oklahoma to find young, unknown stars, who he hopes will change the perception of outsiders.

The series also had an all-native writers’ room.

To help subvert expectations, the series features a teenage Bear – played by newcomer D’Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai – visited by the spirit of a mounted warrior wearing a headdress.

Rather than giving wise advice, the rider admits he was in a legendary battle but accidentally fell off his horse and was crushed to death before he could fight.

“I’ve always liked the idea that in one of those big battles like the Battle of Little Bighorn, there were some pretty poorly coordinated warriors!” Waititi said.

“There were guys who fell from their horses … like in all cultures, there are people who are not very good at it.”

Waititi’s next busy schedule is Marvel’s highly anticipated sequel “Thor: Love and Thunder” in May, ahead of an untitled new “Star Wars” film he’ll write and direct, and a “Flash Gordon” movie.

“Hollywood things are fun,” Waititi said, but “Reservation Dogs” is “probably closer to my heart”.

“Because it just means more to me. “

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