There is a word in Cherokee, Gadugi, which translates (roughly) to “working together”. This is the guiding principle of the Cherokee Nation, an indigenous community occupying a 7,000 square mile reservation in northeastern Oklahoma. And Gadugi is a lodestone for the Cherokee Nation Film Office, America’s only indigenous film commission to have a stand at AFM for the first time this year.
“In a way we, like any other film commission, see the economic development that film and television can bring to an area, and we’re excited to build that industry in Oklahoma,” says Cherokee native and director Jennifer Loren. Cherokee Nation Film Office and Original Content. “But we are guided by Gadugi, which means tribe, we are very proactive, we are community-oriented: if I am doing well, my neighbors are doing well. If my neighbor is not doing well, I will find a way to help my neighbor. It is simply woven into the fabric of the Cherokee Nation. And cinema is no different.
That community focus sets the Cherokee Nation apart from all other film commissions. Visiting establishments enjoy all the benefits one would expect: stunning locations from prairies to lakes, rolling hills, and small-town Americana to big-city urban developments; 25 percent payroll rebates on local spending on top of Oklahoma’s already generous 38 percent cash back plan; State-of-the-art facilities including a 27,000-sq.-ft. An augmented-reality virtual production studio was built last year.
But since the beginning, the Cherokee Nation’s broader mission has been to help ensure Native stories are told properly and to increase the representation of Native talent above and below the line.
“Native Americans are represented at less than 1 percent in film and television, and that’s not right,” Loren says. “The Film Office works every day to provide initiatives to help increase that percentage.”
Incentives like the first-ever Native American talent and crew directory, a free-to-use database listing certified Native Americans —”we saw their tribal identity cards,” notes Lorraine—from background extras to lead characters, cultural, everything from consultants or language speakers are available.
“People were saying: ‘We can’t find a real Indian to play the role.’ Well, now you can, and there are no excuses,” he says.
The Cherokee Nation’s cash rebate system also applies to top-line talent wages, 20 percent of every dollar spent on tribal lands, which jumps to 25 percent if spent on Native-owned businesses. In March, the commission unveiled a new, first-of-its-kind incentive that provides up to $1 million annually for production costs occurring within the borders of the Cherokee Nation.
Some of the first recipients included Sylvester Stallone’s Paramount+ series TUlsa KingA Warner Bros. title by Nardeep Khurmi land of goldIt premiered in Tribeca, and Fancy danceA drama Reservation dogs Starring writer Erica Tremblay billion And Reservation dogs Actor Lily Gladstone. But also a holiday film Christmas…present Candace Cameron stares at Bure.
“It’s set in Ohio but they shot the whole thing here,” says Loren. “We want to be a hub for local storytelling, but we’re completely open to all kinds of projects.”
Loren sees a new, mainstream interest in indigenous stories. Along with Taika Waititi’s basement Reservation dogs For FX, she mentions Peacock Rutherford Falls and recent features Cannes Festival Golden Camera winner A war pony And Martin Scorsese is forthcoming Killers of the Flower Moon For Apple TV+, Gladstone stars alongside Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro and was filmed in Oklahoma.
“Increasingly, local representation is becoming the norm,” he says. “I think we’re really starting to move the bar drastically in terms of Hollywood’s understanding of what to do. I recently had a meeting with the creators of the show with the Cherokee leaders on the Cherokee Nation who had this script. They said that in the old days, they would just go ahead and come up with a plan on their own. But now it’s like They said it couldn’t be done. They wanted the tribe on the board, they wanted Native writers in the writers’ room, Native staff and tribal participation in profit sharing. That’s where we should be.”
This story first appeared in the Nov. 3 daily issue of The Hollywood Reporter on American Film Market.