Overcoming the Criticisms of FX/Hulu Series “Reservation Dogs”

First off, none of us live in the village of the happy people. Secondly, if there was such a story, no one would read nor watch it. Because it’d be a bunch of BS. One of the many pleasures of engaging with art, whether it be film, literature, or the various branches of studio arts, is the freedom we have to think critically about what we consume. When I heard about the series, Reservation Dogs, coming from FX and Hulu, I was excited to watch. I’m always pleased to see Native faces and Native communities in popular culture–especially when it showcases our resilience. We’re a beautiful people with unique experiences to share.

I didn’t get an opportunity to watch the first two episodes until several days after its initial release. I got caught up in the hype and heard a ton of positive comments. Natives were excited to watch. Finally, a popular representation of ourselves in media.

Then I started to hear the initial criticisms, like Natives being depicted as criminals and a disparaging outlook on community. Furthermore, is this misery porn for audiences who want to see Natives attack other Natives? Folks were also wondering about the sense of community pride and the representation of strong family networks. Moreover, where was the saving grace of cultural participation? There were also criticisms about how the characters don’t have Oklahoman accents, which is very distinct.

I don’t want to devalue these observations. I think Natives are making some valid points.

There are a few things to keep in mind. Firstly, this series is just starting. It can take several episodes to get into the depth of the storyline. Truly, there is plenty of time for the familial elements to develop. Similarly, hyperlocal Muscogee culture will likely rise to the top as the series continues. It’s too early to say what is missing overall. It’s like reading the first chapter of a novel and then criticizing the entire book without reading to the end. We, as an audience, don’t know yet what will play out as the season moves forward.

When it comes to the criticism about depicting Natives as criminals, I think the show does attempt to show the characters’ humanity. Their intent isn’t malicious. These are not vicious criminals. Moreover, the creators are touching on an aspect that does exist in our communities. Especially when it comes to violence between youth. We can all attest to gang related activities in our Native communities. Being a published writer myself, I also understand the method of structuring a story with characters at either a low point or a high point. If you start the story with a high point, then you can only spiral downwards. I think starting Reservation Dogs at a low point is a good sign. Now if the characters stay at that low point, then that’s a different situation altogether. But like I mention above, the series is still too early in episodes to make that criticism.

I want to take care of this whole “misery porn” BS now and forever. We, as artists, are ascribed to capture life as we’ve experienced it and transform it–not only as entertainment but as an opportunity for audiences to self-reflect. Like I started this post, none of us live in the village of the happy people. We, as artists, don’t have control over an audience’s reasons to engage. We have control over how we engage our communities for critical thought and discussion. If people want to make a “misery porn” criticism, then that should be directed at consumers–not creators–to think about how and why they engage with Native art. All in all, it’s a great opportunity to have a thoughtful discourse and grow.

Lastly, I’d like to take on the issue with the Oklahoman accent. True, the characters don’t have the distinct accent we from Oklahoma expected. I live, work, and love in Oklahoma so I get it. But what we need to keep in mind is that this series isn’t “only” for Oklahoma Natives. I’d describe the Native accents used in this series as a “non-regional NATIVE” accent. It’s more of a universal Native accent. We do hear it in Oklahoma, like other parts of the United States, but ours is spiced up with a lovable Okie twang. I think the creators did the right thing. The non-regional Native accent makes the show more appealing across the board. It also shows the commonality we have with a shared colonial history, while still accessing a beautiful and unique hyperlocal Muscogee reality. I say well-played to Sterling Harjo and Taika Waititi.

I’d like to leave folks with this: we’re early in the show and it’s important to support Native arts. We complain about not having representation in popular media, and then when it gets here we bash it. I say let’s give Reservation Dogs its due justice and support the show as it continues the season. For myself, I’m excited to see what Bear, Elora, Jackie, and Cheese encounter next–especially as the quirky side cast weaves in and out of their lives.

14 thoughts on “Overcoming the Criticisms of FX/Hulu Series “Reservation Dogs”

  1. I thought it as funny. Native humor will be funny to only natives. Can’t be too judgmental as to only 3 episodes so far… so I’m agreement I hope to see some positivity to the story line….
    I hope to see more from native Americans

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you, Vanessa. I agree with you wholeheartedly. This is just the beginning. I hope audience get to see even more sides of Native life. There is so much depth in our communities. It’s long overdue.


  3. Well said, Oscar Hokeah. It is so good to hear your point of view. Your success is something that makes me feel proud as a Kiowa Elder. I would like to also say congratulations to Sterling Harjo and Taika Waititi. This is just beginning. . . . . vanessa paukeigope jennings, redstone, USA

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you, Nathan. I would’ve liked to hear the accent as well. I’m all about colloquial speech too. My debut novel is heavily weighted by the Kiowa and Cherokee vernacular here in Oklahoma. It was important for me to capture it on the page. I understand where you’re coming from. Maybe as the show deepens there will be more characters with the accent. It’d also be nice if they employed some Oklahoma Native actors as well. I think we should give the show some time to address all these things. It does have amazing potential.


  5. I don’t disagree with your points, but I think they could have gotten away with the accent, and I certainly miss hearing it. Still, great show from the get-go, and I have complete faith that it’s going to just keep getting better.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Well said, I will continue to support the series…. We have Hope, and all we can do is give our best! Please, stand strong and creative with all the talents the Creator has blessed you with….

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Thank you, Linda. I appreciate your insight here. I hope others can hear your wisdom and learn from your experiences. True, we much to celebrate with Reservation Dogs. I hope this starts a Renaissance in Native television and film. We need. America needs it.


  8. Well said. We need to be celebrating the accomplishments of the creators of this series. It is time for us to take back our narrative as indigenous people and this is a great start. Many people have no idea of what this means for native writers, producers, filmmakers, and directors. Having served on the board for Red Nation Celebration Institute in LA for many years, we have been advocating for equality and access to the entertainment industry for control of our own narratives and voices to be heard. We produce one of the largest indigenous film festivals in the nation, showcasing these talents, and giving annual awards for the past 26 years through Red Nation Film Festival. I stand in support of these creatives and their vision to bring native talent to the forefront from a native perspective. It is crucial to providing opportunities to others. Here mahe (all is well in Mvskoke)!

    Liked by 1 person

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