16 Must-Watch Films & Shows Featuring Indigenous Creators, Writers & Actors

Photo Courtesy: FX/IMDb; Peacock/NBCUniversal/IMDb; Miramax/IMDb; Films Boutique/IMDb

“For over a century, Native Americans have been the objects of film, their likeness projected onto screens, capturing the world’s attention with their buckskinned form, and giving John Wayne something to do with his career,” Kerry Potts (Ojibway of mixed heritage), a professor who teaches Indigenous film and media at Humber College, writes for Rotten Tomatoes. “But it wasn’t until they moved behind the camera, becoming producers, writers, and directors, that they truly became subjects of great works of cinema.”

In 1998, Miramax promoted the now-classic Smoke Signals as “the first feature film written, directed, and produced by Native Americans.” Now, over 20 years after the film won over both critics and audiences at the Sundance Film Festival, Indigenous creators, actors and filmmakers are bringing their lived experiences to the small screen, too. “I could feel a visceral sense of Native Joy when Native audiences finally got to see themselves as we actually are on our show,” Sierra Teller Ornelas (Navajo), the co-creator, writer, executive producer and showrunner of hit sitcom Rutherford Falls, writes for Variety. “And I felt it too as a viewer, months later, when I got to watch Sterlin Harjo’s insanely stylish Reservation Dogs.”

To reiterate that “representation matters” feels like an understatement. It more than matters; it can be life saving. That is, when creators and artists are able to tell their own stories, about their nuanced and specific lived experiences, they are the ones shaping the cultural perception of themselves and their larger communities. For many underrepresented communities, this means being saddled with undoing harmful stereotypes unjustly imposed upon them and their communities by white cisgender male-dominated Hollywood.

As a viewer, lending your support for stories told by Indigenous filmmakers and artists is crucial. Not only do these Indigenous-made movies, documentaries and TV shows help rewrite the lexicon of film history, but they center Indigenous joy and humor — things white filmmakers writing about Indigenous characters simply can’t express.

This Native American Heritage Month, educate yourself about the varied experiences of native peoples living in present-day North America, and push yourself to fight against the harmful stereotypes and biases you hold. While your efforts shouldn’t end with education, it’s an important first step. Here, we’ve compiled some of our favorite must-watch films, docs and TV shows that center and celebrate — and were created by — Indigenous people.

Editor's Note: We've chosen to center our discussion on films that were made by and/or star Indigenous and First Nations people living and working in North America.