Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
Blackstone is a big step
Just as my winter hibernation was coming to a close I found a new TV series to keep me glued to the couch. It's called Blackstone; it airs on APTN and Showcase.
I watched the pilot episode from last year so I kind of knew what to expect.
Blackstone is a drama series focused on corruption and the gritty side of life on the rez. But just like the disclaimer at the top of the show says: The characters, reserve, band and events depicted are entirely fictional.
I tuned in to watch the season première a couple of weeks ago. I wasn't disappointed -- and now I'm hooked.
In the first episode Andy Fraser, played by the swoon-worthy Eric Schweig, is setting himself up for re-election as chief of Blackstone First Nation. Addictions counsellor Leona Stoney, played by Carmen Moore, however, is set to knock him off his throne after getting support from local elder Cecil Delaronde, played by Gordon Tootoosis.
By Episode 2, Chief Fraser loses the election to Stoney but this doesn't stop him from plotting to get his job back using whatever dirty tricks he can think of.
Blackstone isn't for the faint of heart. The first episode alone covers corruption, alcoholism, sniffing, sexual assault and teen suicide. Swearing like a sailor also seems to be the norm on this fictional reserve. But the dialogue is also strikingly realistic; anyone who's ever spent time on the rez will see reflections of people they might even know.
It's not all doom and gloom. By the second episode, the writers have thrown a taste of our sense of humour into the mix.
And despite many warm reviews, Blackstone has gotten a bit of criticism.
Chief Terry Nelson of Roseau River First Nation emailed a scathing review to the media condemning the series.
"What will come out of the series will reinforce the stereotypes, the lazy drunken Indians, the easy women, the corrupt chiefs and councils etc.," writes Nelson. "Gordon Tootoosis' character says, 'The white people have the Mafia, we have chief and council.' The rednecks will cream themselves on that comment coming from a Cree elder."
There's some truth to Nelson's statement. These characters aren't candy-coated -- with a passing glance they could be seen as stereotypes. But sit down and watch the show for a while.
Many of the characters are dealing with serious problems, much like the problems we all deal with in real life.
This is dramatic fiction. That's what it's all about.
Blackstone is a step in the evolution of TV and film that aboriginal people need to take. One day we'll have our own version of The Cosby Show or George Lopez, but first we've got to define ourselves and deal with the more pressing issues at hand.
Blackstone is the best show I've seen on APTN. So to give you a little taste of it, here's a list of my Top 10 favourite lines uttered so far.
10) "Because you gave the maintenance contract to your cousin, and he doesn't know his ass from a hole in the ground." ---- An irate band member discusses a fatal fire at a band meeting.
9) "And whatever happened to all that TLE money?" -- Victor Merasty, resident videographer and dissident.
8) "You guys just don't get it, do you? Leadership is about submission to duty, not elevation to power." -- Elder Cecil Delaronde at a band office meeting/uprising.
7) "What do you want Vic, a new house, is that it?" says Chief Fraser. "How about world peace?" -- Victor Merasty, as Victor and Chief Fraser chat in the chief's Hummer truck.
6) "The white people have the Mafia. We have chief and council." -- Elder Cecil Delaronde.
5) "You killed my baby. And now she's in a cheap Indian Affairs coffin because you said there was no money." -- Gail Stoney to Chief Fraser at her daughter's funeral.
4) "Goddamn you, Victor. You're supposed to be filming elders, that's all. The chief saw you there. Now he's gonna think you're one of them and put us on his shit list." -- Victor's angry wife.
3) "The sanitation services budget passed. We'll have the cleanest shithouses north of the 49th parallel." -- Chief Fraser at a council meeting.
2) "I have needs." -- Chief Leona Stoney's white boyfriend from the city.
1) "These are f
ing bingo cards! That's it; we're all going to jail." Ousted chief Fraser.
Now if that doesn't get you watching I don't know what will.
Blackstone airs Tuesday nights on APTN, and Fridays nights on Showcase. If you missed the first two episodes you're in luck -- you can find them online at the APTN.ca
Colleen Simard is a Winnipeg writer.
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 5, 2011 H6