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Transcending the Leathers and Feathers Trope With AMC+’s ‘Dark Winds’ Jeremiah Bitsui

Transcending the Leathers and Feathers Trope With AMC+’s ‘Dark Winds’ Jeremiah Bitsui

AMC+’s psychological thriller Dark Winds has been renewed for a second season. The series is inspired by the popular Leaphorn & Chee crime novel series written by Tom Hillerman and set in the Navajo Nation in 1971. Dark Winds is a groundbreaking drama with a majority Native American writer’s room, which allows for unique nuance as the mystery unfolds. 

Actor Jeremiah Bitsui has the opportunity to flex his acting muscles playing the anti-hero Hoski in this compelling drama. Bitsui has a distinguished career of over 20 years in the industry, which includes playing the formidable Victor on Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul. BGN spoke with Jeremiah Bitsui just before the Fourth of July weekend about this groundbreaking series which has just been picked up for a second season on AMC+.

How does it feel to work with a majority Native cast and crew?

It’s amazing. This show isn’t just leathers and feathers or a narrative that’s dictated by people who don’t necessarily know or try to know the culture, but maybe write it from a 30,000-foot view. It’s emotional, to be completely honest. We have people who are at the base level of entry, production level up to the executive producer, and the writers who are Native, which is an amazing feat. 

So you have on-screen and behind the screen both representing the Native side. It’s pretty cool. That’s been a hard part of my career. I never was able to grow my hair out. I always wanted to just tell stories that I felt I could bring to life. This is one where it’s pretty awesome being insulated with folks from our community and the best part of the show in general. It’s an honor.

Dark Winds is an adaptation of one of the Tony Hillerman Navajo police novels, with which some folks in Native communities have had issues. In what aspects have the writer, cast, and crew evolved past the Dark Winds’ origin to tell this story from an authentic place?

Good question. It [Dark Winds] comes from a narrative story. From that, we are distilling it into an adaptation of what you see on screen. So, it’s cool that there are other liberties we can take since we’re not necessarily going by the book per se. I get asked by Navajo friends things like: “Well, that’s not how we dress every day?” I’ll say, “Well, but it’s part of our culture, and it needs to be represented.”  

Maybe there’s not always an opportunity to represent how we dress. In terms of the period, the look, and establishing folks through details, we are all trying to find as much as we can to be authentic. From a story point of view, I had a director/producer mentor, and they always said: “Facts tell, stories sell.” So this was the direct advice, “If you’re trying to represent facts, go do documentary filmmaking. If you want to make narratives, make narratives and focus on the story.” 

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If we are doing our jobs right, telling the story, and engaging people, that’s our job. It’s always an ever-evolving process of making sure we get our culture out there in the right way, and that we get our language out there in the right way. Those are important elements as well. Now that we’ve got a second season, I think you’ll see that progress and evolve, which is exciting.

Your character Hoski reminds me of Black Panther’s Killmonger in all the best ways. What’s your favorite aspect of playing him, and what’s your biggest challenge?

I think it’s more of a social challenge. We have so many men in our community in our culture and in US culture nowadays that still can’t vocalize and express their trauma. So we have all these traumatized men who can’t express themselves healthily. Something needs to be done about that. This [Hoski’s negative actions in the show] is, in a sense, what happens when someone goes through so much trauma and is untreated. I don’t know if that’s necessarily my favorite thing, but it’s something I think about, which is important to his character.  

As far as my favorite parts of filming — definitely the dialogue and playing a character who is trying to fly under the radar and directly in the face of the law. I think that’s interesting, and the challenge of that, of course, is playing someone who’s trying to play someone else. The challenge is doing that by the numbers. Make sure you give a few breadcrumbs, but you’re not giving away that you’re a character who is not sincere. He’s doing his best impression but he’s not his brother. Playing that is the biggest challenge.

You had a mentorship program Youth Impacting Youth. Are you still involved with philanthropic work?

Yeah. As a young person, I started a mentorship program, which evolved through college. I’ve been an entrepreneur for 22 years now. The mentorship program kind of has subsided. But, as far as today I’m still working in the community. I have a construction company, and we do a lot of infrastructure projects. 

Then my wife has a nonprofit Dream Lab Coffee. The whole focus is that many important conversations can happen over a cup of coffee, and almost everyone loves coffee. So we figured this as a way of us creating a dialogue within the community.

What right now is bringing you the most joy

I’d say definitely, my family. You do all this work and see the fruits of your labor paying off. I have this family, and I get to come home to them, and it’s a wonderful thing. A while back, we created this thing we called Breaking Dad, and we were interviewing Bryan Cranston, and I asked him: “What’s the secret to being a good father?” He said, “Treat the mother well.” And I was just blown away. So my wife always says, “Always remember what Bryan said.” So you know I always get checked by that.

All episodes of season one of Dark Winds are now streaming on AMC+.

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