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Indigenous Filmmakers: Q&A with Ryan RedCorn

If making you laugh is his job, he’s going to do the best job he can

Ryan RedCorn and his satirical sense of humor may have gotten him into trouble as a young boy, but as an adult it’s brought him fans from across Indian Country.

Upon getting to know him, you will learn there is a purpose behind everything he does, and he’s a busy man. Filmmaker, photographer, screenwriter, graphic designer – these are just some of the titles he goes by. He’s also a husband, a father to three young daughters, and an avid Osage language student and speaker.

If you got a chance to watch the Reign of Terror episode on the CNN series, “This is Life with Lisa Ling,” he was one of the producers. If you’ve ever heard of a little hit show called “Reservation Dogs” on HULU, he’s one of the writers for its highly anticipated second season.

We sat down with RedCorn and spoke with him about his career evolution, his hope for Indigenous youth and the healing power of laughter.

ON: How did you come to be a producer on the Osage Reign of Terror episode for “This is Life with Lisa Ling”?

RRC: They had it in their mind they were going to do an episode on the Reign of Terror and had identified me in their pre-production documents they would want to interview. During the call I requested to remove myself and offer my services as a producer and redistribute the story to other Osages and their families. 

ON: What was your experience like as a producer and working with Lisa and her crew? What did you learn? What did they learn from you?

RRC: Film and television is a collaborative medium; these projects cannot reach their full potential without a multitude of people bringing their strengths to a project. It was great to work with Lisa’s team to get this story out in a respectful and honest way. 

Ryan RedCorn (far left with his daughter) poses for a group photo with longtime journalist Lisa Ling and the Edward Shaw family at their camp in Grayhorse in 2020. Courtesy Photo/Lisa Ling Instagram account

ON: Your family was also affected by the Reign of Terror. Would you mind sharing your family’s story?

RRC: I was told by my grandma that my great-grandfather was poisoned by his second wife. She absconded with almost all of our family belongings of which we never recovered. Culturally we lost the ilonpa (oldest son) of our line. To Osage readers who are aware of how knowledge is passed down in families, they will know what kind of havoc that can wreak in our line. I think it’s important to note we are still recovering from that. But we ARE recovering. I don’t feel like I am in a position of cultural diminishment. And I’m encouraged by the things my children and extended family are doing in language and culture as participants and as artists. 

ON: Most Osages know you as a graphic artist and activist. What many don’t know, is that you are venturing into the film industry with screenplays, short films and you’ll be joining the writer’s room for the second season of “Reservation Dogs.” Tell us about your career evolution?

RRC: When I was in high school my grandparents purchased a VHS camcorder. I would take it and con my brothers and cousins into making stupid videos with me. As a full-grown adult, I continued to engage in this childish endeavor with other grown man-children from other tribes and we formed the 1491s. Our emergence coincided with YouTube and before I knew it, I was half buck on the internet dancing in a “loin cloth” constructed from a borrowed Holiday Inn hand towel. This sounds absolutely insane, but I was coming out of a period of time in my life where I had experienced great sadness. I saw other people who had experienced that type of sadness and I saw how my antics impacted them in a good way. Once I heard a room full of Natives laugh at my nonsense, I was hooked. And I knew I couldn’t fix all those things that happened to people but I could alleviate it for a little bit. This motivated my work with Sterlin Harjo, Migizi Pensoneau, Dallas Goldtooth and Bobby Wilson. I feel like we are all like-minded like that. Together we got commissioned by the Oregon Shakespeare Festival to write a play. This got me thinking seriously about writing as a career. It’s fair to say I had not been encouraged in the field of writing during my earlier stints in the classroom. Migizi finished the MFA low residency program at IAIA in Santa Fe and talked me into applying. I applied and got in during our time writing, “Between Two Knees,” at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. I was able to attend thanks to a scholarship from IAIA and the Osage Higher Education Scholarship. During the end of the writing of our play, things started to take off for both Sterlin and Migizi, eventually culminating in Reservation Dogs. I graduated with my MFA in screenwriting during the pandemic and was invited to join the room for the second season of the show this past fall. I got to co-write two scripts with Sterlin and Dallas and become a full-fledged member of the WGA (Writers Guild of America). I feel like the experience is that much more meaningful to me as an expression of Indigenous joy because the show is a dark comedy that centers around a group of friends that lost someone to suicide. I know how suicide has affected my own life and my own family and it means a lot to me to be asked to make people laugh, and hopefully in those efforts maybe those jokes reach people who are suffering in silence. If that is my job, I want to be as good as I can be at my job. 

At the conclusion of the writer’s room, I directed a short film, “Dead Bird Hearts,” in the first week of January and I was happy to hire some Osage people to fill crew positions. Royce Warner Sharp who did sound for “Tiger King” and “Reservation Dogs” was great. Dana Daylight catered for us. John Parker did hair and makeup. Lanie Maker and Denver Wahwassuck were both in wardrobe with Lanie also being a last-minute fill-in as an actor. Last but not least, Everett Waller came in as an actor and just did what Everett Waller does which was perfect for the part.  I started out as a kid with my grandparents VHS camcorder making films with Osages and it was great to be able to do it again on a higher level as an adult.

Ryan RedCorn (far left) with fellow 1491s cofounders, Sterlin Harjo, Dallas Goldtooth, Migizi Pensoneau and Bobby Wilson. Courtesy Photo/Migizi Pensoneau

ON: What project(s) are you currently working on?

RRC: Aside from editing the short film, we are editing a one-hour PBS documentary for RoadTrip Nation that I directed and helped with from Laronn Katchia and Ryker SixKiller. RoadTrip Nation hired my company, Buffalo Nickel, to direct/produce their first-ever “Native” episode. Wilson Pipestem ended up being one of the interviews and really inspired the three Native youth that were chosen for the trip. 

ON: Is there anything you would like to add? Any cool upcoming projects Natives nationwide would benefit from hearing about?

RRC: For the longest time I would hear stories directly and indirectly from people who are at the decision-making level about what stories do and don’t get made. And for the longest time, they would say they would essentially sideline Native stories with the excuse that people don’t care about Native stories. It turns out, people just didn’t care for the way those stories were being told. “Reservation Dogs” and “Rutherford Falls” are both comedies in their own right but they have proven that if Native people are given free rein and resources to tell their own stories that they can and will produce some of the most successful content out there. I hope young Native people see this content and not only see themselves, but also realize that their worldview, their ideas, their thoughts, and emotions matter. I watch these shows with my kids, and the absolute very best thing is that they are going to grow up thinking this is normal. Now they live in a world where they expect it. And they will grow up seeing themselves with the expectation and belief that we all want them here. I can’t think of anything more beautiful than handing it off like that for those kids. I have a lot of funny people in my family and in general, we have a lot of funny people in our community that I grew up around. Through handgames, activities around the Inlonshka, funerals, you name it, they created a world like that for me to laugh in despite whatever was going on in the world. And I think it’s important to keep that world alive here and share it as wide as I can for anyone who isn’t fortunate enough to be in it when they most need it. 


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Shannon Shaw Dutyhttps://osagenews.org
Shannon Shaw Duty is the editor of the Osage News. She is a graduate of the University of Oklahoma with a bachelor's degree in Journalism and a master's degree in Legal Studies, Indigenous Peoples Law from the OU College of Law. She served on the Board of Directors for the Native American Journalists Association (NAJA) from 2013-2016 and served as a board member and Chairwoman for the Pawhuska Johnson O’Malley Parent Committee from 2017-2020. She is a Chips Quinn Scholar, a former instructor for the Freedom Forum’s Native American Journalism Career Conference and the Freedom Forum’s American Indian Journalism Institute. She is a former reporter for The Santa Fe New Mexican. She is a 2012 recipient of the Native American 40 Under 40 from the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development (NCAIED). In 2014 she helped lead the Osage News to receive the Elias Boudinot Free Press Award, NAJA’s highest honor. An Osage tribal member, she and her family are from the Grayhorse District. She currently resides in Pawhuska, Okla., with her husband and six children.
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