Without giving too much away, there is a scene in season two of “Rutherford Falls” that encapsulates and subverts how Native American culture has been brilliantly misrepresented through costumes: stereotypical braided ponchos; gaudy headdresses with rainbow shadows and feathers; a hodgepodge of fringed, beaded cheap and culturally appropriate Halloween dresses.
“It was crazy to shoot this episode, because you’re watching yours actual a nightmare in real life, ”says writer and series star Jana Schmieding, who is Miniconjou and Sicangu Lakota, and a member of the Sioux Lakota tribe of the Cheyenne River.
The comedian plays Reagan Wells, the prodigal daughter in the fictional hamlet of Rutherford Falls, New York, named after the white settler who founded the city on the (also fictional) native land of Minishonka. She makes her way back into her community fold under the wing of casino CEO and local political power broker Terry Thomas (a stellar Michael Greyeyes), while she absentmindedly fulfills her dream of building a new one. sparkling Minishonka Cultural Center. In this particular episode, her professional adventures with Terry are particularly personal for a sharp and talented Native American writer struggling with the usual Hollywood bullshit. That’s because Schmieding, who co-wrote it, once helped pay the bills as a “sensitive reader” on projects that attempted to tell native stories of non-native creators.
“We made the joke because it’s partly real,” says Schmieding. “The experience of watching other people tell our stories has only this hint of trying so hard to be native and only trapping us in the past.”
Viewers react in real time – guided by Schmieding’s punctual facial expressions – as Reagan witnesses the worsening of John Wayne’s “mushroom trip,” as he tells Terry, which also involves a series of offensively jeweled turquoise dream catchers and a low-profile “Twilight” excavation.
“Those costumes are very easy to find,” says costume designer Kirston Mann (“The Good Place,” Apple TV + ‘s next “Loot”). “I would never use them now. But would I have done it in the past? It was a good lesson for all of us and for our entire team.”
A collaboration between Mann, co-creator / executive producer / writer Sierra Teller Ornelas (a member of the Navajo Nation) and a writers’ room with six indigenous scribes (including Schmieding) helps infuse costumes with authentic experience and style – an instrumental part of build fully realized, complicated and endearing characters that we see through moments of native glee and heartwarming but humor-influenced bass.
Reagan, for example, is “a fish out of water in his own community,” Mann says. During her hiatus from Rutherford Falls, she earned not one, but two masters from Northwestern University, which we also know for its urban-inspired aesthetic, with leather jackets, high boots, patterned dresses and blouses, and the occasional Northwestern sweatshirt. . For this, Mann went directly to the source: “We stole from Jana”. (He also acknowledges the lack of behind-the-scenes representation: “We need more native costume designers and people working in costumes.”)
Schmieding – who paid his dues in New York before settling in Los Angeles – describes his character’s wardrobe as a telegraph of “Indian city vibes.”
“A huge population of natives in the United States are urban natives, living off their traditional homelands,” he says. “Reagan dresses very professionally. She wants to make the best of her at all times. She Basically she thirsts to be seen as a successful native woman by her own community.”
Like Schmieding, Reagan infuses his wardrobe with bold prints, maxi dresses, beaded accessories, and graphic tees from native designers, such as Bethany Yellowtail’s B. Yellowtail, Jaymie Campbell’s Turtle Clan Creations, Jaymie Campbell’s White Otter Design Co, celebrating Anishnaabe, and OXDX owned by Diné. “Since I am a native woman existing in modern times, I already buy from many native designers,” says Schmieding. “This is true in our communities: we want to buy each other’s designs, we want to buy each other’s fashion. We support each other very actively and already exist as an art design community.”
This was especially important as he worked on “Rutherford Falls,” he continues: “I entered Season 1 with that intention – and I made it explicit to Sierra, Kirston and Alexis. [Jacks, assistant costume designer] – that I want to show a different beading artist every episode. ”Schmieding even provided Mann’s team with a designer spreadsheet to support and present on the show.
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The art of beading has profound significance in Native American culture, tradition, and history. Going back millennia – before European colonization and the glass beads they brought with them – indigenous artisans created jewelry and decorated clothes using natural elements, such as stones, quills, bones and shells. In the series, you’ll see pieces by contemporary designers such as Alaynee Goodwill, Sweetgrass and Sage, and Jamie Okuma (whose work is awarded in the Costume Institute’s “In America: A Lexicon of Fashion”).
Schmieding is herself a skilled bead hitter and has her own line, which was also featured in “Rutherford Falls”. In addition to beading the bolo Teller Ornelas wore at the Independent Spirit Awards, she also created custom earrings for the show’s costume, hair and makeup teams. As she explained on Instagram, “beadwork is a way we adorn our friends and family with love, and it’s how we celebrate ourselves as artists. Beadwork tells a story and says a lot about the wearer / buyer. , and it’s hard to acquire! ” (Because carefully handcrafted pieces are usually released by designers in small batches, which sell out quickly online.)
These traditions and artwork also find their way into the script: there’s the beaded circle at Reagan’s mother’s house (when she realizes all Minishonka singles are looking at her new love interest) and the arsenal. of medallions that flex Terry’s strength. (“Most of the pieces in that case were provided by native writers and producers, and I pearled a couple of them,” says Schmieding, who also adorned Terry’s Apple Watch bands with colorful patterns.)
Like Terry’s ties and beautiful lockets, Reagan’s signature beaded earrings illustrate his dedication to his native roots.
“Nice earrings, is that snakeskin? You’re wild, girl,” purrs a bureaucratic clerk-doorman at Reagan during his near-Sisyphean attempt to claim tribal land at the Minishonka Nation’s community services office.
“It’s salmon skin,” Reagan replies, trying to make a connection through her Busy Beaver Beadwork circular beaded earrings (below). “My mom makes them. She’s an energy seller on Etsy.”
“Reagan wears them on purpose so that it looks a little more traditional,” says Schmieding. “The salmon skin earrings give us more of a native vibe. Then, of course, forget that her mother is an ‘energy seller’.”
Thanks to a promotion from Terry, Reagan allegedly now has a bigger budget to add to his earring collection, as seen through eye-catching pieces by Jill Kaasteen, Brodie Sanchez, Copper Canoe Woman, Kianga Lucas and Tania Larsson (seen in season two. poster, which also features bead designs by Jamie Okuma, Kahsenniyohstha and Leith Mahkewa). “Let’s assume you have a little more money and you’ve done some shopping,” says Mann.
Though now the costume team won’t need to be glued to their laptops trying to score pieces during “drops”: the brands are eagerly contacting the show directly for the second season – and hopefully more will arrive.
“The generosity of the community is great. I’ll say I’ve never experienced it on any other show,” says Mann. “I could cry.”
“It is definitely a community effort,” says Schmieding. “People are just coming together to make this show shine and really reflect on how we celebrate our fashion and design in our community.”
All episodes of the second season of “Rutherford Falls” debut Thursday, June 16 on Peacock.
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