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Wes Studi returning to 'Reservation Dogs': 'The blossoming of Native American content on national media'

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Wes Studi, an Oklahoma-born Oscar recipient, was asked how he came to be in the FX series “Reservation Dogs.”

“My question would be, how would I not?” he replied.

“Tulsa is where I got my start in the business, more or less. ... I would have been very disappointed if I never would have been asked if I would be on the show.”

The “Reservation Dogs” folks got in touch with Studi’s reps in Los Angeles and offered a role. He didn’t hesitate to accept a gig in the groundbreaking series, which employs Indigenous creatives in front of and behind the camera.

“It’s the blossoming of Native American content on national media — maybe even international as time goes on,” Studi said.

“Actually, it already is international because I see comments and things from people overseas who have managed to be able to see it on FX and the streaming services that are available these days. It’s a huge step for Natives, and fortunately there are people with the talent that stepped up. Bada-boom. Bada-bang. Here we are. A lot of us have been in the trenches for a long damn time. Finally, we are beginning to see the fruits of our labors, in a way.”

A “Reservation Dogs” red carpet premiere event with selected representatives from the series is scheduled Friday, July 29, at the River Spirit Casino. Studi, who lives in the Santa Fe, New Mexico area, is not expected to be among attendees.

“Reservation Dogs” was co-created by Tulsa filmmaker Sterlin Harjo and Taika Waititi, who directed the latest entry (“Thor: Love and Thunder”) in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Shot primarily in Okmulgee, “Reservation Dogs” is set in the fictional Oklahoma town Okern. Season one spotlighted four Indigenous youths who, after the death of a friend, schemed to raise enough money to flee the modern-day reservation and head to California. The youths are Elora Danan (Devery Jacobs), Bear Smallhill (D’Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai), Willie Jack (Paulina Alexis) and Cheese (Lane Factor).

The series landed on year-end “best” lists of 80-plus critics, won a Gotham Award for breakthrough series, won two Independent Spirit Awards, was honored as one of AFI’s television programs of the year and won a Peabody Award.

Season two premieres with back-to-back episodes Wednesday, Aug. 3, on FX on Hulu. Expect to see more of Studi, who said his character, Bucky, and Uncle Brownie (Gary Farmer) have some interesting things to do in the first two episodes.

Who is Bucky?

“Bucky is a conglomeration of people I have known or been related to and even a bit of myself, I think,” Studi said. “He’s just a character that almost everybody has an Uncle Bucky, one way or the other. That’s who Uncle Bucky is. He’s the serious guy, a funny guy. He’s the guy that is entertaining. You are either going to love him or hate him. But he is a fixture, much like the aunties. He is one of the uncles of the whole world of Natives in Oklahoma.”

Bucky debuted in the fifth episode of season one. The episode (“Come and Get Your Love”) showed young Cheese on a ride-a-long with tribal officer Big (Zahn McClarnon). They cross paths with Bucky more than once. The episode also features the Deer Lady from Indigenous lore. An encounter with the Deer Lady (Kaniehtiio Horn) motivated Big to be one of the good guys.

“The Deer Lady has been so much a part of peoples’ Indian experience, as far as I know, forever,” Studi said. “I’m happy to know these writers take these kind of directions where a lot of television writers never have done this before. We are sharing the intricacies of Native life in the Indian communities of Oklahoma.”

Studi, born in rural Oklahoma, is Cherokee. He got a late start at acting, but — better late than never — was selected by the New York Times as one of the 25 greatest actors of the 21st century (so far). The list was published in 2020.

One year earlier, Studi was the recipient of an honorary Academy Award for career achievement. His resume includes “Dances With Wolves,” “The Last of the Mohicans,” “Geronimo: An American Legend,” “Heat,” “Avatar,” “A Million Ways to Die in the West,” “Hostiles” and “A Love Song,” which premiered at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival and was released Friday.

Studi took part in a phone interview with the Tulsa World that was arranged in advance of the season two debut of “Reservation Dogs.” Portions of the interview were excerpted for this story and for a profile that will appear in the next issue of Tulsa World Magazine.

“The series itself is a great step forward, along with other series, as well,” Studi said. “More Natives are showing up on screen in different (projects), either sitcoms or regular series-type shows on TV. We are finally getting to the point where our writers are bold enough to not take ourselves so seriously anymore and really reveal who we are to the American public. That, I think, has been a milestone and something that we have been working towards for a long time in terms of telling our own stories, if you will. I think this is like a golden age of Native cinema.”

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“Bucky is a conglomeration of people I have known or been related to and even a bit of myself, I think. He’s just a character that almost everybody has an Uncle Bucky, one way or the other. That’s who Uncle Bucky is."

-- actor Wes Studi

On Uncle Bucky

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Scene Writer

I cover pop culture and work as a feature writer at the Tulsa World. A former Oklahoma sports writer of the year, I have written books about former OU coach Barry Switzer and former OSU coach Pat Jones. Phone: 918-581-8389

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There’s really no awards category that fits “Reservation Dogs.” Sure, it’s billed as a comedy but there are so many touching moments it could easily top the shows that are billed as dramas. Variety seeps in, too, and if you happen to hail from the rez, you probably think it’s a reality show.

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