Geek Girl Authority’s Indigenerd Wire is back! It’s an exciting time for Indian Country. There are three television project in the works that all feature Native stories, written by Native writers and starring Native actors. Sterlin Harjo is one of the Indigenous creatives that is bringing a Native story to life on FX. You may recognize his name. I’ve mentioned him before. Sterlin is famous among Oklahoma Natives. And now it’s time for the world to learn more about him. 

Who is Sterlin Harjo? Sterlin says he’s a filmmaker and so much more. He is also a writer, producer, comedian, actor, activist, podcaster, playwright, and dancer. The Oklahoma born storyteller is a member of the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma and grew up in the small town of Holdenville. Sterlin is a product of the Sundance Institute’s Indigenous Programs. He’s produced and directed three feature films, several documentaries and short films. He recently directed an episode of SYFY’s The Magicians, and is currently writing and producing Reservation Dogs for FX with Taika Waititi

Sterlin is a member of the comedy troupe The 1491’s, with Dallas Goldtooth (Mdewakanton Dakota-Diné), Migizi Pensoneau (Ponca-Ojibwe), Ryan RedCorn (Osage Nation) and Bobby Wilson (Sisseton-Wahpeton Dakota). They wrote a play for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, titled “Between Two Knees,” a chronicle of the events that took place between the Wounded Knee Massacre of 1890 and the takeover of Pine Ridge in 1973 by the American Indian Movement, also known as the second Wounded Knee. And most importantly, Harjo is part of a group of Indigenous creatives leading a push for more authentic Indigenous content in film and television. A sort of renaissance. 

I’ve known Sterlin for a few years and am a big fan of his work. A lot of his work is filmed in Oklahoma and cultures play a huge part of his storytelling. I spoke with Sterlin about his influences, the Sundance experience, and how Hollywood is adapting to Native storytelling. 

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Noetta Harjo: Hi Sterlin!

Sterlin Harjo: Hesci! Stonko? (Mvskoke for Hello, How are you?)

NH: Great! Thanks for talking with me today. Being from Oklahoma, I’ve been a fan for a while. There are certain characteristics about your films that have a small town feeling to them. What is it about Holdenville that influences your work?

SH: Background really influences all of your work. I think it’s everything about my work. It’s the main influence. And part of it is that, I’ve created something that didn’t exist in my head. Part of it is a fascinating place that doesn’t exist in a lot of places. Part of it is nostalgia for something that used to be there that’s not there anymore and I try to recreate it. I think it’s the sense of community that I grew up in that I love. Also the sort of magical aspects to it and the countryside. I’m always trying to kind of recreate that. I don’t know if it was just my imagination, I mean it wasn’t all my imagination, but I don’t know … sometimes I wonder, was it as special to other people as it was to me? Because it was and I’m the type of person that tells stories and talks about these things. A lot of people will just go on with their lives, you know no big deal, but I sort of took it to an obsessive level where I tell these stories in my films. I also started writing short stories because I can directly talk about the stories from home.

NH: I also see the culture part in your films as well, but it’s not overly saturated. How much of your culture do you try to incorporate in your stories? Do you purposely try to put a little culture in your work?

SH: It’s obviously in my films but what’s interesting … I’m so embedded in my culture, that I forget that other people aren’t. That’s why I like to collaborate with people from all different backgrounds. I’m so used to my point of view. Growing up in the culture, I take it for granted sometimes that other people don’t understand it that much. I don’t set out to specifically say “here’s my culture.” It’s just the stories that I know and it’s the people that I know and it naturally comes out that way. I never want to do it just for showings culture sake, it has to be a part of the story, there has to be a reason, it has to be motivated by either character or story. I think when people just try to show their culture for showing it sake then that’s exploitive. And you can tell when they do that. 

Filmmaker Sterlin Harjo, shooting his documentary "This May Be the Last Time.".

Filmmaker Sterlin Harjo, shooting his documentary “This May Be the Last Time.”. Photo: Shane Brown/documentary.org

NH: There seems to be this fascination with “Native American” culture in mainstream pop culture lately. How have things changed as far as what Hollywood is looking for? 

SH: I think … what was happening the last 10 years is … Hollywood wanted a certain look to it. And that’s why stuff that’s out right now has that certain look to it. Hollywood thinks they discovered us but we’ve all been working and doing this for years. We just didn’t get hired in Hollywood so we didn’t have a reason to go to Hollywood and work. And now what’s happening is there’s an understanding of how special, specific and unique our stories are. Now they’re letting us tell our stories the way we want and they’re just supporting us.

Take Reservation Dogs for example … when that show comes out, no one’s ever seen anything like it. And I’m not saying that everyone is going to love it or not or whatever. No one’s ever seen it because it’s literally just us living our lives dealing with our own communities, dealing with their own issues. It’s not about white people coming in and trying to take stuff from us; not about a white guy that runs a casino and is trying to take something from us; it’s not about a white rancher who’s trying to take our lands; it’s not about white people. It’s about us. White people are in it but it’s about us. We’re going to just drop the audience right in the middle of the story. No one’s ever seen that before and FX is letting me do that. By the time I’m a real old man, I feel like I’ll have a good body of work that helps break the same old narrative that we’ve been sort of forced into by Hollywood. It just takes awhile because it takes awhile to make these things. It’s already changing and people on the inside can see the change because we know what’s out there and what’s getting made. We probably won’t see it for the next couple of years though. 

RELATED: GGA Indigenerd Wire: Reservation Dogs Gets Series Order at FX

NH: Has there been any kind of push back?

SH: Anytime something like this happens there’s a cultural shift. There’s people who hang on, there’s the people that are opportunistic, and there’s people that want to manipulate and take advantage of the situation. It’s not about storytelling, it’s about getting ahead. There’s growing pains and stuff when this happens. There’s going to be some bad stuff that comes out and stuff that isn’t is interesting or whatever, but it all comes with the territory. I think of us taking a step forward culturally. It feels like we’re in that period that black cinema went through when Boyz in the Hood and Menace to Society told the struggles within their communities, even Friday! Friday is a good example of not dealing with the outside and dealing with what’s in our neighborhood. I feel like that’s where we’re at. We’re trying to do what black cinema did so we can get to the point where people want to see us in love or in a soap opera. It’s like we want to normalize things but we have to tell our stories first. I think that our own stories and our own struggles have to come out first before we can. You can’t just expect people that know nothing about native people to get it. 

I always think about the English version of The Office with Ricky Gervais; it’s one of my favorites. It took me three episodes before I could even understand their slang. I could pick up on the rhythm of their humor and ground myself in that world. It will be the same with our stories. People aren’t just going to get it right away. We’re introducing things and we’re slowly unrolling these cultures out, but people have to get used to our rhythms. We were trying to do that with the 1491s. We were slowly telling those stories and trying to get people used to our humor. We realized that you have to give people permission to laugh with us. They were afraid that we might think they’re laughing at us. We had to let them know that they’re in on the joke and we realized it from doing stage shows. We would go in front of audiences and there would be all white people in one show and no one would laugh. You have to ease them into it, because they’re afraid. 

NH: You are a product of the Indigenous Program at the Sundance Institute. Tell me about your experience and the lessons you learned about filmmaking in Sundance.

SH: I had no education in cinema. I went to the University Oklahoma Film and Media Studies, but I had no education in the practicality of making a film. Bird Runningwater came to speak at the University of Oklahoma. Andrew Horton, Film Studies professor, encouraged me to go listen to him. I hated going to hear people speak but I went because I heard about Sundance, so I went. Bird was talking about the Sundance labs. It was great. I was excited. I went up to him afterwards and told him that I want to make films.  He was like cool, send me a script. And that started a long friendship with Bird. 

I didn’t get into Sundance with my first submission, but I’m not a person that’s precious about things like that. If people don’t like something, ok cool.  If I don’t get in, I accept it fully. It’s like “oh it wasn’t that good, it needs to be better.” I get fuel from that and try to make things better. So I didn’t get in, but Bird stayed in touch with me. And then two years later, Bird wrote to me asking if I had anything to submit. I was living in New York at the time and had just finished the script, Four Sheets to the Wind. So, I submitted it and it was good enough that I got into the labs. 

A lot of people help me. I feel indebted to so many people. I was really young when I submitted the script to Sundance labs. I just came out of nowhere. They wanted to do some interviews with me because they liked me. I’m the type of person that can take criticism, because you have to be in this industry. There was this one filmmaker named Chris Fisher. He had a film premiering at Sundance that year. He wrote to Bird saying he rented a big mansion in the mountains and would be having parties, so he didn’t need his hotel or flight. He asked if there was a native filmmaker that Bird might want to support. Bird said he knew the perfect person and called me up. Chris literally helped start my career with Sundance. 

So, I went to the Sundance Festival and worked with Frank Pierson who wrote Cool Hand Luke and Dog Day Afternoon. I remember he told me, he said, “well the good news is you’re a writer. You can’t teach someone how to write. But you’re not a screenwriter yet. You can teach someone to be a screenwriter.”  I know exactly what he meant now. It’s all true. I was not a screenwriter. I knew not what it was because I haven’t done enough. I knew the rhythms and I knew dialogue but I didn’t know about building a story and structure and all that. It took me years to learn that; I’m still learning it.

NH: What ways do you think you benefited from that experience?

SH: Chris Fisher … years later, like 15-16 years later, Chris is a producer of a show called The Magicians. And he pushes for me to be a director on that show. He had to really go out on a limb. TV direction is a hard racket to get into. It’s  a very small pool of people. And I know that he went to bat for me. He gave me my first TV directing job. It just goes to show you that as Native people, we have to be open to working with other people and allies and other walks of life. Filmmaking is a collaborative art form. You’re not just going to work with native people; get that out of your head now. You have to embrace everyone and be able to work with everyone; coming from a small town Oklahoma allowed me to do that. 

People don’t realize this small town in Oklahoma is very diverse, especially where I grew up in Holdenville. You grow up with black kids, white kids, native kids, there’s always a couple Hispanic families and Asian families. When I was growing up, it was very diverse and you learn how to get along, how to talk to other people, and how to be with other people from different cultures. And I love that. I think it helped me as a filmmaker because you have to be able to collaborate.

At Sundance labs, I worked with Ed Harris, Philip Seymour Hoffman and so many people are reading my scripts and I was shooting scenes. I didn’t even know what a script supervisor did until I was at the Sundance labs. So, I’m just learning how to be a filmmaker. It really changed everything, gave me confidence and opened a lot of doors for me. Those doors were quickly shut; they were all shut.

Whenever I started making films, it was a really bad time for independent film. No one had money. No one wanted to fund your film, especially a Native film. I heard so many times that Native films don’t sell. I was like “alright. Well, I’m gonna go back to Oklahoma and get money from my films there and make them for a really low budget. And hopefully one day the industry will catch up and I’ll be able to make a living,” and it happened. What happened was TV and streaming. And now I work in TV. I don’t even make films hardly anymore, lol.

NH: There has been this generalized stereotype of Natives in film. They are usually in buckskin, speaking broken english and living in tipis. How do you break the mold of the image that so many people associate with being Native? How do you show that we’re not all the same?

SH: There’s two ways that you can look at that stuff. You can look at it as a bad thing or you can say this is a good thing that they know nothing. That’s how I chose to look at it. When I walk into a meeting, I’m in a boxing ring and I’m throwing friendly punches and these punches are showing them what they don’t know to the point where if they feel like they’re disappointed because we’re not talking about buckskin and whatever, they would feel like idiots. Because I tell them how interesting and how big our world is and how diverse.  I’ve never felt an issue with that. I know it’s easy to get hung up on that. I just think if someone still sees us as tipis and buckskins, I don’t want to be around them. They have nothing for me. And anyone in Hollywood that’s still trying to do that, they’re career was probably over 15 years ago because it’s all changed. It’s been a long process of changing that. I’m not saying I did it but I’m saying that there’s been a big community of people telling stories and pushing and pushing and grinding and grinding. It’s happening here in the US, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, with the Sami people and in Mexico. It’s just been a grind. We’ve been slowly chipping away at the old monuments and showing them what storytelling is from our communities. There’s a lot of people that have been doing that. 

NH: What’s different this time?

SH: It’s really easy to see the people that are not community minded. This is a community. The Native film community is a community. And we try to lift each other up. It’s been really cool. There was an older generation that was very kind of monolith, like they just had their jobs and they didn’t bring anyone along, they didn’t support a lot of people. Our generation is different … it’s been really cool.  You have to lead by example and we lift each other up. We give each other jobs; we push for jobs.

For example, Sydney Freeland (Navajo) and I, we’ve been friends for a long time. We were laughing because we always go for the same jobs. One of us will get it or the other one will get it or whatever. One day I was in LA, and we always joke that Sydney’s walking out of a meeting when I’m walking in. We just give each other high five and wish each other luck. One day she texted me and asked me if I was going to meet at this one place. She asked if I’d had my meeting yet and I said “oh I’m actually walking in right now.” She said it’s a pretty cool project. I suggested that we just write something together instead of going after the same job and she was down. So, my meeting went really well. It was a super exciting meeting. I could tell they liked me, but at the end of the meeting, I could tell that there was something bothering them. They started saying “we met Sydney Freeland and it was a really good meeting.” I could tell that they were struggling with the idea that they liked both of us. And so I just said, “just so you know, Sydney and I are trying to find something to collaborate on.” And they were like “really? Would you write this together?” So we wrote this script together and I can’t say much about it yet, but it’s going to get made. Sydney’s going to be the director. And there’s a company that partnered with us over the last few months that’s huge. Sydney and I are just pinching ourselves. And it was all because, instead of fighting each other trying to get a job, we worked together. And the script is better for that. I feel like we are in this period of growth. And I think people that are out for themselves and not for community; I think they easily get weeded out. There’s not enough room for that. And I think that if there’s going to be a successful thriving Native film community, it has to be a community and not individualized.

1491's comedy troope Ryan RedCorn, Migizi Pensoneau, Dallas Goldtooth, Sterlin Harjo, Bobby Wilson

The 1491s: Ryan RedCorn, Migizi Pensoneau, Dallas Goldtooth, Sterlin Harjo, Bobby Wilson. Photo by Alexis Munoa Dyer.

NH: Tell me about the 1491’s. You guys became pretty big in Indian Country for a little while.

SH:  That was so special. I say it was ’cause it feels like it’s over because we’re old, lol. I’d love to make a film, a 1491’s film. We did a play, which is really cool but it’s sad that it feels like it’s over. I think the pandemic helps make it feel like that because so much of what we did was live on stage. When we started that, it was such a pure thing. We just wanted to make Natives laugh and there was no place for Native comedy. We were cracking ourselves up so we were like “why don’t we just do something.” We collaborated with Bobby and Dallas, who we just met in different places. I already knew Migizi. 

We did the New Moon Wolfpack Audition, not knowing if people were going to like it or not but we did it. It had such a special feeling as we were doing it. I’ve never had an experience like that since. Maybe came close … when I was making the Reservation Dogs pilot but doing this video it just felt like … something special that happened. It was like something cracked in the universe. Something that needed to happen, and have been waiting to happen, happened. And it felt right. I remember driving home with Ryan and we were just on a high, we were just buzzing. I remember saying “I don’t care if anyone likes it or not, all I care about is how much fun that was.” People liked it and it kind of went viral. We just decided to start doing more.

We came up with the name 1491s and we decided to keep making videos. It was very loose for a while. We’d have different people make different videos if we were in the same town. Then we started doing this live show. People wanted us to come in person and show the videos and do a live show. So we developed a live show and started traveling. It was just a lot of fun. If that was the only thing I did in my life that would have been amazing. I wish I would’ve been filming the making of that the whole time. 

One time we were in Alaska, this was a couple years ago. We were asked to go to a domestic violence and violence against women awareness conference. On paper, it didn’t seem to be the easiest place to play a comedy show, at this conference. It was a little nerve wracking, like how do we approach this? But it was so beautiful, we were just ourselves. We knew they were talking about some heavy stuff. And we just did our thing; made fun of people, teased people, brought people on stage dancing … We just went wild and did our show. And they loved it so much. You could just feel the room lift. It was like, the medicine at the end of this really hard journey. You could just feel everyone letting it go. And there was something so beautiful about that. They gave us eagle feathers and they gave us gifts and thanked us. I’ll never forget that. It was so amazing just to be able to make people laugh and make people feel better. There’s something about that that is really, really cool. I don’t necessarily get that feeling when I make films. I mean this is different thing was really beautiful.

NH: Laughter is always good medicine. I know our Indigenous communities have so many different issues to deal with. I’ve seen your activism as well, like at Standing Rock. Someone once told me to be Native is to be inherently activist.

SH: It’s like, just being born, as a Native, you are an activist because you are in a resistance. You were born into it. In other cultures and communities, it’s easy for people to say, “I’m the filmmaker, (or whatever), they’re the activists.” There is no second string with us. If you have a voice, it is up to you to use that voice to help your people. Because there is no other group that is going to do it. All the people that have any kind of public voice … it’s not even a question you just have to do you just have to help. You have to use your voice because … there’s a lot of bad things that happen in our communities, or we’re still being affected by these things. Every Native community dealt with this stuff and we survived through resistance and activism. We can’t just let that go. We have to pick it up and we have to carry forward. That’s how our communities are structured anyway.

NH: You have some talented friends. Just from what I’ve seen on social media and in the entertainment news, Taika is one of those friends. It seems like the world has fallen in love with him. Can you talk about how your friendship led up to the creation of Reservation Dogs? 

SH: Yeah we’re just old friends. It’s weird watching everyone fall in love with my friend. We definitely had a bromance going from the beginning. When we first met, I don’t think we liked each other. I think I thought he was an asshole and he thought I was some hillbilly or something. We met in LA but then we were at Sundance together. We were kind of forced to be in these condos where all the natives gather and have feasts and stuff. We just sat by each other and ended up talking and like so many parallels in our life; our dads are very similar, stories from home were very similar. It was just funny, we just laughed the whole time. 

STORYTIME:  At one point, we started singing songs and the song Under Pressure came on. Taika and I got up at this condo and sang it for everyone. And everyone loved it; it was impromptu. We just hit it off and after that, we sang this song, we were homies after that. Then we were at a late night condo party, all native; there’s pictures of this. We were dancing. The dance floor’s lit. Everyone was dancing. Whoever was the DJ is doing an amazing job. Me and Taika are in a dance battle against these two Navajo guys. We’re literally just like toe to toe dance off and we decided it was a draw. We told those guys, “in two days we’re going to do this again” and they’re like, “you got it”. They probably didn’t think about it again until two days later. Taika and I, in between those two days, Taika and I started planning our dance moves. We were like “we have to crush them.” How are we going to end this? We gotta do something that just kills. So, we practiced this move and then when it comes time and we’re dance battling these two Navajos … There are pictures of this and video …  We’re dancing, and the move that killed it was right at the end. It was a Michael Jackson song right at the end. Taika has this pearl snap shirt on and he flings it open and does a Michael Jackson pose. And I go down on one knee and I grab the back of his shirt and I’m flopping it like the wind is blowing through his shirt as he’s posing. And it just killed! We obviously won the dance battle and since then we’ve just been friends, fast friends! 

I started working in TV a lot, going to LA for a lot more meetings and I would have dinner at his place. He would always have me over and just go hang with his friends and have dinner. I never approached him about work though. A friendship sacred. I don’t want to try to do business. I’m sure he respected that as he was like blowing up everywhere with Thor and all this stuff. I was just his bro. Then one day, he brought it up to me. He said “we should do something, I have this deal at FX. We should do something if you ever have any ideas.” That’s all I needed to hear. We have similar tastes. So we started talking about it and came up with it that night. I wrote down some notes and wrote something down a week later Bam! They said they wanted to do this and that’s how it happened. It’s crazy.

NH: I’m excited for that because it’s filmed in Oklahoma which is becoming a popular film site.  You’ve been I know you’ve been filming in Oklahoma forever. Is Oklahoma becoming the next hot spot for filmmaking?

SH: The thing that needs to happen … There is interest and people shooting here, but it doesn’t matter. None of it matters. Martin Scorsese is great. I love him, obviously is one of my heroes. It’s great that he’s coming here, but Scorseses … they leave. Everyone leaves. So, it doesn’t matter unless you’re building local people. Building the local community and bringing people up, training people how to do these crew positions, supporting filmmakers and writers … we have to focus on that too. That’s what really sustains a place. Films come and go, but if you have enough filmmakers here, staying here, making films here, then it starts really making a big difference. That’s what I’ve always been about is like the local community. I mean like I love seeing other projects come here. 

NH: We were talking about the Native film community supporting each other and posting Instagrams with each other. In a way, you and others are leading this sort of renaissance of Native film and television. How does that feel?

SH: It’s exciting. A big part of me, probably being Native and Oklahoman, is to never think too much about that stuff. Because … it’s scary and you don’t want that pressure. I know it’s there. The whole time I’ve made films, my only guiding light and how to navigate through all of this has been my family. What would make them proud? Don’t be an asshole to people; be about community; be about helping others; creating jobs for people; telling stories to help us, to save lives, to change perception. I’ve only just thought of my family and I think that that’s why communities are so important to me. What guides me is community. Community can tell you when you’re screwing up and the community can tell you when you’re doing good. I think it’s always good to be in the middle and try to be in a place where you’re always pushing the envelope. When you push an envelope across lines, you’re always going to make mistakes. It’s important to have a community to tell you that I think. So that’s how I’ve always thought of it. 

My grandma, who’s not here anymore, and lots of uncles and aunts, are constantly present in my mind in what I do. They were so important and they lived their lives in a way that I really respected. I think we have to be that same way in this community because there are younger people that want to become filmmakers. You have to take a lot of hits. It wasn’t easy. I know that I was one of the earlier people going through this stuff. There was a lot of weird shit that I had to endure. I think communities are a good guiding light. The 1491s have been a good community for that. We have kept each other balanced and in check. If one of us were screwing up, we would all come together as a group and tell each other. It was like the most high functioning band ever, because we kept each other in check. But like I was saying, it wasn’t always easy.

I remember, 10 years ago, I was going to HBO to pitch a show. All white people in the room. I was creating a show. They ended up not doing it. I remember this big time agent from a really big time agency who wouldn’t give me the time of day 10 years ago but today is leaving messages on my phone. It’s crazy. I remember being in the elevator with this really big time agent and just the look he was giving me and the way I was feeling was gross. It was like he looked down on me, like he was doing me a favor. I remember, I could tell he wasn’t excited about the project. I remember he reached over and he grabbed my collar and he fixed it for me without asking. He just fixed me up like you would do if you felt like you were better than someone you know. And it was just like such a gross feeling you know. A lot of things like that happen where it’s almost when people don’t know they’re being racist or classist or whatever. And they’re just treating you badly because of who you are, where you from, and how you look. There was a lot of that. I think it’s changed a lot. At some point, people realized that diversity could actually make money. And once that happened, it was game on. There’s so many people that are different pieces of this thing that’s happening. We’re all breaking down the wall. You need everyone to do that.

NH: Now that Indigenous people are producing television shows, acting in more, diverse roles, how do you deal with misinformed press or viewers that just aren’t getting it?

SH: I definitely encountered some dumb questions throughout doing this. There’s a certain way that I feel like we have to handle them that gives them no power. And it’s because, I don’t think that people have bad intentions you know, when they’re they’re asking dumb questions about stuff. For example, Devery Jacobs in Reservation Dogs, in American Gods, doing everything that she does, the activism; all that’s all going to be this complete picture of her. And that’s what’s going to change to us. People might have one idea of what Natives are, but they’re going to slowly start seeing the community as a whole and it’s going to blow all that away. Those questions are going to go. The only thing we have to focus on, you and I and everyone else that’s Native and doing what we’re doing, is to keep creating and telling the stories and doing good work. And in a friendly way, breaking those preconceptions and stereotypes; doing it in a way that people will listen and not in a way that turns people off. We have to call people in, we show them instead of yelling at them, and then it’s going to change. It’s going to break all that down and it’s going to slowly change. And in like 10 years, we’re going to look back and be like “wow like we’re in a different place.” Maybe it’s a little growth but it’s still a growth, and we’re in a different place in the media. It’s already happening and it takes everyone. It doesn’t just take filmmakers. We need people like you, talking about the work in a way that non-Natives can read and be like “I get this.” This is a perspective of a Native writer talking about this work, as a fan and as someone that can talk about this stuff. And it opens their eyes to how to look at this. It’s all a part of the same thing that we’re trying to do. And it’s really just to be human and just to be seen as who we are specifically, but our fight has always been to be treated as human beings. I think we’re almost there and like our voices are very powerful right now. It’s a good thing.

NH: Do you have any advice for young Indigenous creatives?

SH: Do it. Don’t talk about doing it, don’t post about how you’re gonna do it; do it. That’s the best thing that I think I did. I remember I went to Greece and there was a Greek filmmaker that Andy Horton introduced me to. I was like “I’m going to make a film soon” and he was like “Why? Just make it. What are you waiting for?” I was like “Oh well, you know, you need money.” And he was like, “Nah, just make it. Just go make it. You’re a filmmaker, go make it.” And that was such good advice. I went and made a really bad movie that will never be seen.

I kept working and then another movie got made. Now people see it. When young people say they want to do something like that, you have everything you need to make a film; make it. Because you’re going to make bad films. I can’t even watch my first films or read the first scripts that I wrote, they’re awful. You have to get those off your chest. So, the sooner you start making stuff the better. Learn how to take criticism; learn how to show it to people; learn that it’s OK if people don’t like it. Because you’ll learn from that. That’s my biggest advice is just go out and make stuff. 

NH: Mvto Sterlin! Thank you for your time and good luck with everything. 

SH: Thank you.

***

Native supporting Natives. It’s great to see Sterlin doing so well. He has come a long way from Holdenville, Oklahoma. And he’s an inspiration to all Oklahoma Natives. 

You can find Sterlin on Instagram. Check out his IMDB for complete works. Look for the 1491s on YouTube. And you can catch Reservation Dogs on FX, maybe later this year. 

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This interview was originally published on 2/26/21

 

Noetta Harjo
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