The 30-Year Journey to AMC’s Groundbreaking Native American Drama ‘Dark Winds’

Can’t wait to watch this one! ~ V

How indigenous talent, including star Zahn McClarnon, teamed with George R.R. Martin and Robert Redford to adapt Tony Hillerman’s best-selling series — and potential franchise — at last.

Nine miles outside Santa Fe, New Mexico, in the red-brown foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, is an old casino surrounded by curious artifacts. A crashed helicopter, a couple of 1970s-era police cars and some dome-shaped dwellings dot the landscape of sandstone bluffs and savannah grasslands. This land belongs to the Tesuque Pueblo people, a small tribe of just under 800 that moved here in 1694 after they waged an uprising against Spanish colonizers in the region.

Today the Tesuque land is home to a different kind of revolution, a cultural one. The tribe has converted their former casino into the first Native American-owned film and TV studio, Camel Rock Studios. And among the first productions to shoot there is perhaps the most ambitious Native-led TV show ever made, the new AMC drama Dark Winds, which is based on the best-selling Tony Hillerman mystery novels that feature a pair of Navajo tribal police detectives.

“I’ve been [acting] since the early ’90s, and it’s been a struggle the whole way through,” says Zahn McClarnon, a Lakota actor best known for his supporting roles on shows like Fargo and Westworld, who plays Detective Joe Leaphorn in Dark Winds. “I’m really glad that I’ve stuck out this business and that I’m finally seeing this stuff come to fruition with having Native writers, Native crew, Native talent and Native directors and producers. We’re in a unique time.”

Dark Winds, which premieres June 12 on AMC and AMC+, is executive produced by Robert Redford, who acquired the rights to Hillerman’s books in 1986, and George R.R. Martin, who was the mystery writer’s friend from 1980 until Hillerman’s death in 2008.

The $5 million-an-episode show is filmed in three different sovereign nations, written by a writers room of five Indigenous writers, primarily directed by filmmaker Chris Eyre — of the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes, he is best known for his 1998 film Smoke Signals — produced by Graham Roland (Chickasaw), shot by a crew that is 85 percent Native American and starring actors McClarnon, Kiowa Gordon (Hualapai) as Detective Jim Chee and Jessica Matten (Red River Metis-Cree) as Sergeant Bernadette Manuelito, a character the Dark Winds writers expanded from the books.


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