DARK WINDS – Review by Susan Granger

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Why is AMC’s series Dark Winds so compelling? Perhaps because it emphasizes the importance of realistically depicting Indigenous people in Westerns and what it means to have an all-Native American writers’ room, along with Navajo elders as background extras.

Based on two of crime writer Tony Hillerman’s novels – Listening Woman and People of the Darkness – this quietly gripping mystery revolves around laconic Detective Joe Leaphorn (Zahn McClarnon) of the Navajo Nation tribal police and undercover FBI agent Jim Chee (Kiowa Gordon), recruited by senior FBI Agent Whitover (Noah Emmerich) who promises to reward ambitious Chee with a plum assignment in Washington.

Along with his wife Emma (Deanna Allison), Leaphorn is still grieving over the death of his only son, Joe Jr., in an explosion at a local mine. When there’s an armored car theft and murder in Stockton, California, he teams up with culturally conflicted Chee, who grew up on the Navajo reservation. Joining them in the investigation is no-nonsense Sergeant Bernadette Manuelito (Jessica Matten).

Apparently, the armored car robbery was planned and executed by members of the Buffalo Society, and the stolen cash is stored in a cave, guarded by shrewd James Tso (Jeremiah Bitsui) and escaped convict Frank Nakai (Eugene Brave Rock), who hijack a Mormon family to hold as hostages.

Series creator Graham Roland insisted on authenticity, concentrating on Navajo customs and character development. He was determined to make a show about two Native Americans who were the heroes of their own story, as opposed to being brought in by a Caucasian character.

According to Cheyenne/Arapaho filmmaker Chris Eyre, who directed four of the six episodes, clinging to a deceased son’s belongings seems natural in our culture but – for Navajos – getting rid of the deceased person’s clothing is an integral part of letting go of sadness.

The series was filmed at Camel Rock Studios, the first Native American-owned film & TV studio, located nine miles outside Santa Fe, New Mexico in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

FYI: Hunkpapa/Lakota actor Zahn McClarnon’s expressive face may be familiar from supporting roles in Fargo, Westworld and Reservation Dogs.

On the Granger Gauge of 1 to 10, Dark Winds is an Indigenous 8, streaming on AMC, and it’s been renewed for a second season – to air in 2023.

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Susan Granger

Susan Granger is a product of Hollywood. Her natural father, S. Sylvan Simon, was a director and producer at R.K.O., M.G.M. and Columbia Pictures; her adoptive father, Armand Deutsch, produced movies at M.G.M. As a child, Susan appeared in movies with Abbott & Costello, Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, Margaret O'Brien and Lassie. She attended Mills College in California, studying journalism with Pierre Salinger, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with highest honors in journalism. During her adult life, Susan has been on radio and television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic. Her newspaper reviews have been syndicated around the world, and she has appeared on American Movie Classics cable television. In addition, her celebrity interviews and articles have been published in REDBOOK, PLAYBOY, FAMILY CIRCLE, COSMOPOLITAN, WORKING WOMAN and THE NEW YORK TIMES, as well as in PARIS MATCH, ELLE, HELLO, CARIBBEAN WORLD, ISLAND LIFE, MACO DESTINATIONS, NEWS LIMITED NEWSPAPERS (Australia), UK DAILY MAIL, UK SUNDAY MIRROR, DS (France), LA REPUBBLICA (Italy), BUNTE (Germany), VIP TRAVELLER (Krisworld) and many other international publications through SSG Syndicate. Susan also lectures on the "Magic and Mythology of Hollywood" and "Don't Take It Personally: Conquering Criticism and other Survival Skills," originally published on tape by Dove Audio.