‘True Detective: Night Country’ isn’t about men

Jodie Foster and Kali Reis in “True Detective: Night Country.” The series centered on two detectives, both women, in a fictional village in the Alaskan Arctic during the polar night of perennial darkness. 

Over the past few years, it has been thrilling to see the long-overdue representation of Native American stories on movie and TV screens.

In front of and behind the camera, Native artists and communities are creating their own narratives and finally gaining access to the distribution channels needed for those stories to be widely seen.

The groundbreaking series “Reservation Dogs” is, of course, a standout in mainstream Native representation but so are films like “Frybread Face and Me,” “Fancy Dance” and even action shows like Marvel’s “Echo.”

On the acting front, our own local superstar Lily Gladstone (Blackfeet) has become the first Native woman from the U.S. to receive a best actress nomination at the Academy Awards for her powerful role in “Killers of the Flower Moon.”

One of the latest entries in this exciting complement of work is season four of the HBO series “True Detective,” which wrapped its run last week. Dubbed “Night Country,” the series centered on two detectives, both women, in a fictional village in the Alaskan Arctic during the polar night of perennial darkness.

The series focuses on the mysterious death of seven scientists, but one of the detectives, played by professional boxer and actor Kali Reis (Seaconke Wampanoag), is determined to keep attention on the unsolved murder of an Iñupiaq environmental activist, a storyline that connects to the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and People movement.

I loved the series immediately, not just for the fiercely powerful women characters and their big queer energy but for the obvious care showrunner Issa López took to present a complex, unromanticized picture of contemporary Iñupiaq life.

Critics loved the series, too, garnering it a 92% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Yet, as happens too often now, what could have been a celebration of inclusive storytelling was hijacked by “bros” and “hardcore [True Detective] fanboys” — as López called them in a now-deleted post — determined to sink the show’s audience ratings. The Rotten Tomatoes audience score currently sits at 58%.

Of course, art is subjective and not all art appeals to everyone. That’s fine. But what is not fine is the pattern we have seen for years now of men weaponizing their fragility because they are not being centered 100% of the time.

One of the first examples I can remember was the case of Kelly Marie Tran, who was cast as Rose Tico in the 2017 Star Wars movie. Her casting, for reasons I never quite understood, sparked a ferocious onslaught of sexist and racist attacks, leading the actor to ultimately abandon social media entirely.

Later, we saw similar attacks follow films that had the audacity to feature white women and women of color in lead roles, particularly in superhero films such as “Captain Marvel,” the “She-Hulk” series and the live-action “The Little Mermaid.”

Imagine having a meltdown because — gasp — someone with a different life experience than you has a lead role in a movie. Imagine not seeing those stories as a valuable opportunity to learn and grow. Imagine how the rest of us must feel having lived our entire lives with that reality and somehow manage to carry on.

Men needn’t worry. They are still overrepresented throughout the entertainment industry. They are overrepresented in characters with speaking roles in films, in director’s chairs, in producing roles and in many other jobs. In 2023, for example, the “Celluloid Ceiling” report found that just 16% of directors of the 250 top-grossing movies were women, down from the year before.

Much of the review bombing can be traced to misogyny, racism and homophobia, and “True Detective” triggered all three. Nic Pizzolatto, the original creator of “True Detective,” has poured fuel on the hateful fire, posting negatively about the fourth season of the series led by López from the first episode on and sharing critical comments from fans.

Columnist Lyz Lenz wrote last week about Pizzolatto’s tantrum in her Substack newsletter titled “Men Yell at Me” (me too, Lyz, me too).

“Of course, Nic Pizzolatto is angry about it for some unspecified reasons. Pizzolatto shared criticism of the show calling it ‘disrespectful.’ And after watching all of Season 4, I’d love to know what he means by that?” Lenz wrote. “Is it disrespectful to write a cop drama centering women of color? Why is that, Nic? WHY WOULD THAT BE DISRESPECTFUL? I am sure it can’t be because of misogyny with a side helping of racism.”

Unfortunately for Pizzolatto and his fanboys, they are going to have to keep hating for a while longer. After the huge viewership success of “True Detective” season four, HBO just signed López to direct season five.

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