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Hulu hit ‘Prey’ fuels success of Native Americans in mass pop culture

·4 min read

Native Americans are having a moment in mass media — again. And it’s most, most welcome.

The FX on Hulu series “Reservation Dogs” and Peacock’s “Rutherford Falls” got the ball rolling last year by featuring Native American characters in contemporary stories, free from cliches and stereotypes, and actually making fun of them. Both were bona fide hits and both were nominated for Film Independent Spirit Awards, with “Reservation” being nominated for a Golden Globe.

Both were monumental achievements and far overdue. Both recently started new seasons, to great acclaim. Now comes the “Predator” prequel movie “Prey,” streaming on Hulu. It exploded onto the scene and set social media abuzz after debuting on Aug. 5. It features not only a Native American character as its lead, but a female Native American character — in an action franchise. That’s groundbreaking in many ways.

Here’s a look at that and other shows featuring Native American characters (and actors) prominently.


Streaming on Hulu

The seventh film in the “Predator” franchise is actually a prequel origin story. Set in the 1700s, the film stars Amber Midthunder as Naru, a young Comanche warrior who battles an ancient Predator after it begins hunting members of her tribe. On Tuesday, Aug. 9., Disney said the film scored the No. 1 premiere on Hulu to date, including all film and TV series debuts, according to the Hollywood Reporter. That’s no small feat and a giant leap forward for Native Americans in mainstream pop culture. Some versions of the film feature it dubbed in the Comanche language.


Streaming on FX on Hulu

Created by Oscar winner Taika Waititi (”Jojo Rabbit,” “Thor: Love and Thunder”) and Sundance sensation Sterlin Harjo, the series follows four Native American teenagers growing up on a reservation in eastern Oklahoma, trying to navigate their lives amid loss and chaos. The first season was truly groundbreaking, presenting the characters, situations and even slang matter-of-factly, with no need to over-explain. It was funny, tender and ultimately heart breaking.

The second season premiered on Aug. 2. NPR calls it “one of the best and most original shows on TV,” and says that “episode one tilted a bit too sharply toward the comic whimsy that is sometimes its failing. But the show quickly regained its balance and began doing what makes it special.” The show’s young stars (D’Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai, Lane Factor, Devery Jacobs and Paulina Alexis) have become social media sensations.


Streaming on Peacock

Ed Helms (”The Office”) is one of the creators of this comedy series, which launched its second season on June 16. Set in a small town in the Northeast, the show features lifelong friends Nathan Rutherford (Helms) and Reagan Wells (Jana Schmieding), whose relationship is strained when their small town’s mayor decides to move a statue of Nathan’s ancestor because cars keep crashing into it. Nathan begins a quest to keep the statue in its place, as Reagan has to juggle loyalty to her friend and to her people, the (fictional) Minishonka Nation, because Nathan’s ancestor was known for attacks on her people in the colonial era. Veteran actor Michael Greyeyes stars as Terry Thomas, the C.E.O. of the Minishonka’s casino.

The Hollywood Reporter’s review of season two says it “exudes warmth, but its optimism is one tempered by caution; the show’s faith is not in the traditions that have let these characters down for so long, but in their efforts to work around them, or to invent new ones entirely.”


Streaming on AMC+

This Robert Redford-exec produced six-episode series premiered on June 12 and is based on the “Leaphorn & Chee” novel series by Tony Hillerman. Set in the 1970s, it follows Navajo tribal police members Lt. Joe Leaphorn (Zahn McClarnon from “Reservation Dogs”), his new deputy Jim Chee (Kiowa Gordon, “Blood Quantum”), and Sgt. Bernadette Manuelito (Jessica Matten), who are forced to challenge their own spiritual beliefs when they search for clues in a double murder case. The show has a rich sense of place, with its majestic yet ominous setting.

Reviews have been mixed, but a show featuring Navajo characters front and center is a revelation. The Hollywood Reporter says, “Enjoy the quiet complexity of McClarnon’s performance, which has wry humor and a deep reservoir of sadness.” The show was just picked up for a second season.


Streaming on Paramount+ and Peacock Premium, also premiering on the Paramount network

The Kevin Costner-starring series premieres its fifth season on Nov. 13. It’s a contemporary Western about a complex ranching family, the land they stole 150 years ago, their ruthless fight to fend off greedy developers and the nearby Native Americans who intend to take it back. It’s co-created by Taylor Sheridan (”Hell or High Water,” “Wind River”).

The show has garnered a loyal following (hence its five seasons) but has had wildly mixed reviews. Still, it has been a showcase for Comanche actor Gil Birmingham as tribal chairman Thomas Rainwater and Angela Blue Thunder (Q’orianka Kilcher), a high-powered lawyer. Little is known about season five, but anticipation is high. Really high. Just check out https://twitter.com/yellowstonefans.

Reach Rod Pocowatchit at rodrick@rawdzilla.com