K. Devery Jacobs, who plays the acerbic Elora Danan on FXs Reservation Dogs, understands that this season deals with more serious issues. In the aftermath of their best friends' suicide in Season 1, the Res Dogs are in a state of recovery. Now, in Season 2, Elora's grandmother Mabel is dying. The community joins together to take her on her next adventure.
Jacobs, who co-wrote Mabel, had an opportunity to share the joy and humor that occurs during Indigenous funerals. In the few non-Native funerals I have been to from Western culture, [it] is a hands-off experience where the casket is closed [and] we do not talk about it, according to Jacobs.
Reservation Dogs is no longer the only television show with a predominantly Indigenous cast and creative team, but Jacobs cautions that artists are still at the stage where they are seen as filmmakers first and Indigenous second.
If we could look at cinema as a whole and ask, If you can pick one project that defines white filmmaking, what would it be? It's just unrealistic, because what we can and should do at the end of the day is concentrate on the context of the story we're attempting to portray and if it's not all inclusive of Indigenous storytelling, it just means there need to be more stories out there, according to Jacobs.
Jacobs then went on to talk about the specifics of writing and filming the Mabel episode of Reservation Dogs, and why shell will no longer use her full name on filmmaking projects.
For clarity, the interview has been condensed and edited.
IndieWire: Can you describe how you came to co-write Mabel?
Devery Jacobs: I have been writing since 2016. [Showrunner Sterlin Harjo] had an idea about my work before, both as a writer/director and as a staff writer. I have also written several feature and series, many of which I am currently working on. But I was only allowed to be there for a few weeks before I could send off my samples or anything. I was just supposed to be a part of the whole thing.
I didn't intend to expand the Eloras plot. I went in mostly focusing on other peoples stories and hoping to contribute to the season as a whole. Women are the center of our cultures in so many Indigenous nations. I was equally passionate about the hands-on, heartfelt comedy around death in our communities.
I was really interested in writing about all of the things that Sterlin asked me to do this episode with him and I was up for the challenge. I was also intimidated as all hell because I didn't think I would write for Elora, but I feel like I was able to separate myself mentally and focus on the story with Sterlin, who I know has been a writer for a long time.
This episode tries to look at grief in a different light. What did you know you definitely wanted to focus on?
Elora gets to witness Mabels death and the families who have passed in the right ways, because they are surrounded by community members, and they are being sent off in the same manner as we do. At the end we get to see Mabel flourish in all of her glory, in her bingo attire; she is truly in a better place.
[director Danis Goulet and I] had many discussions about trusting you with this episode and im letting it go. This is something I've been working so hard on, and now im handing it over to you and I cant wait to see what you do with it. I took off my [metaphorical] writers hat, and I put on my actors hat, and I was able to focus as Elora.
I had hopes, dreams, and prayed for these characters. I prayed for Elora to find some solace, and healing in this experience. I believe that energy was carried throughout the story.
What was the production process like?
Every episode of our filming takes four days. For the first day, it was a lot of community stuff. The second day was all of the scenes that took place in Mabels bedroom, which was 12 feet by 12 feet. I didnt realize how many people I had planned to take it on until I saw her squished in one space, and then gave Danis the task of figuring out blocking and how we were going to shoot it, which I thought she accomplished beautifully.
And you may also assert that the country must let out some emotions. Did you notice parallels to what's going on in the world when you wrote it?
When we were filming this program, I don't know if we were looking at society as a whole. We remove blinders from the rest of the world and look inward to ourselves. This program is ultimately a love letter to our community. It is the program we all could have benefited from having back when we were young.
What draws you to a writing project and the desire to wear multiple hats?
Im a storyteller, behind the lens and in front of it. As an actor, I am someone who lends my expertise and expertise to helping someone else tell their story, whether that be the director, the writer, or the showrunner of a project. In that regard, I deal with things around my own identity, whether it's my queerness or my identity [as a] Mohawk woman. Those are areas that become more personal.
Im interested in passion projects and things that speak to my soul. As an actor, im interested in learning from other people and exploring characters outside myself.
Reservation Dogs was the first show to tackle Indigenous representation, and it now has other programs in its wake. What do you think of this shift in representation?
Ill take it! Yes, this is a moment, but it's a time that's going to spawn a whole new wave of Indigenous storytelling that will only grow in years to come. That's what I'm determined for this moment to do. It's only by being honest that we become universal, and for Indigenous storytelling's future, I'm excited for a moment when we can be considered as filmmakers and as creatives who are expressing our stories.
Reservation Dogs is available on FX Wednesdays and Hulu Wednesdays.