January 18, 2011

Sopranos-style Blackstone debuts

Rez Life à la The Sopranos

By Wilhelm MurgIn a closed society that operates under its own rules, things can go very wrong. In recent years, that basic idea has underpinned some of the best series on television: the HBO hits The Sopranos, True Blood, and Big Love, to name a few. First Nations reserve life will get a similar unflinching look when Canadian production company Prairie Dog Film & Television unleashes Blackstone on Jan. 25.

Set on (and off) the fictional Blackstone reserve, the show is an intense, compelling and confrontational exploration of power and politics. “We wanted to take a look at some of the reserves in Canada and to bring some exposure to what are some really big problems: corruption and nepotism,” says Ron E. Scott, executive producer and a member of the Métis Nation of Alberta. “Authenticity is one of the hallmarks of this production; a lot of our Native actors have first-hand knowledge of this stuff—people in their family or people they know. That includes me: My mother was Native and my father was a drunken white sailor. I have a lot of aunts and uncles on my mom’s side who grew up close to the reserve, and I looked at some of their behaviors. In the clash of cultures the authenticity really comes forward.”

The quest for authenticity led Scott and his team, which also includes the award-winning Native filmmaker Gil Cardinal, down some dark roads that Native TV and cinema has often avoided. Characters battle addiction to alcohol and gas-huffing. There is tension between those who have left the reserve and those who still live there. Characters with high social status cling to it, while those at the bottom of the pecking order struggle for respect.
Comment:  Having watched The Sopranos, True Blood, and Big Love, I can say they all show the good and bad of the cultures they portray. They aren't relentlessly negative liked SCALPED, which also has been called a Sopranos on the reservation.

I trust Native filmmakers to get rez life right more than I do non-Native writer Jason Aaron. They presumably know that for every gangster, drunk, or whore there's a leader, a healer, and a teacher. Life on the rez isn't unremittingly bad.

I haven't watched Blackstone yet, but I hope to eventually. It'll be interesting to see if it rings true.

For more on the subject, see Blackstone Gets Full-Season Order and Blackstone TV Pilot.


Anonymous said...

The difficulty is realism. I mean, like, Erdrich's characters are real. They suffer a lot of the same drama, and they're petty. Similarly, Alexie's characters are far from stereotypes; I'm convinced Thomas Builds-the-Fire has Asperger's.

I'm not sure where this'll go.

Rob said...

For more on the subject, see:


Gabriel lands major role in TV series

Squamish Nation actor featured as troubled youth in ‘Blackstone’