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Filmmaker Sterlin Harjo Appointed to the Academy: "A Win For Indigenous People And For Oklahoma"

Ryan Red Corn
Filmmaker Sterlin Harjo is now a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences invited more than 800 artists to join as members of the organization. One of them is Oklahoma's own Sterlin Harjo.

Harjo grew up in Holdenville, Okla. and is Seminiole and Muscogee Creek. His first feature two feature films, 'Four Sheets to the Wind' and 'Barking Water', premiered at Sundance in 2007 and 2009.

Barking Water featured Richard Ray Whitman and Casey Camp Horineck as two old lovers (Frankie and Irene) on a road trip back to Wewoka, Okla. so a dying Frankie can visit his estranged daughter and grandchild. The film was praised for its humor and tender scenes between the two main actors and won Harjo a best director award at the American Indian Film Festival and official selection at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival.

Harjo's first feature length documentary, 'This May Be the Last Time', also premiered in 2014. It's set in Sasakwa, Okla. and tells the emotional and personal story of Harjo's grandfather who went missing in 1962 after a deadly car crash. In rural churches across Oklahoma, the film lays out the history of Muscogee Creek hymns people sang as they searched for Harjo's grandfather and the connection of those songs to gospel and rock and roll music.

Appointment to the Academy means Harjo will get a vote for future Oscar Awards. He said as someone who grew up loving movies, wanting to make movies and watching the Oscars, this is huge honor for him as a filmmaker and as an Indigenous person.

"I always sort of carry the people and the place of where I'm from with me. And I feel like it's sort a win for Indigenous people and for Oklahoma," Harjo said.

Harjo co-founded Fire Thief Productions in Tulsa, Okla., directed 'Mekko', which premiered in 2015 and has won a number of awards.

He's currently set to write and produce the series 'Reservation Dogs' along with Maori filmmaker Taika Waititi, who won an Oscar for best adapted screenplay for his film 'Jo Jo Rabbit' The series will premiere on FX and is set in Oklahoma.

Allison Herrera covered Indigenous Affairs for KOSU from April 2020 to November 2023.
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