Television Discovers Native Americans In New Shows at AMC and Showtime

Two shows doesn’t quite constitute a trend, but I was curious to note that both AMC and Showtime are developing shows about Native Americans. AMC’s working on a show about the football team at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School, which recruited students from what was then the Dakota Territory starting in 1879. Among its students? Jim Thorpe, the Olympian and football, basketball and baseball player who some people consider the greatest all-around athlete who ever lived. And Showtime is working on a contemporary show from Alexander Payne about the opening of an Indian casino in the Midwest.

These shows may not be perfect. Both come from white creators. And the AMC show seems likely to focus on Richard Henry Pratt, who founded the school and coached the team, which means it would have a white star (Tommy Lee Jones may direct the pilot). But that does, unfortunately, tend to be the way that marginalized people begin to move to the center of the frame. And in between these efforts, and the news that Robin McLeavy, the Australian actress who plays the most fully-realized part-Native American character in AMC’s Western drama Hell on Wheels, will become a series regular rather than a supporting character, we’ve got some movement in that direction. It’ll be a while before we know if these projects are worth their while, but I’m glad to see networks recognizing that there are interesting stories to be told in some of the diversity of Native American experience.