ABC is launching a TV series starring Academy Award winner Hillary Swank as a New York investigative reporter who moves to Alaska and winds up focusing on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women.
“Alaska Daily” producers hired three Alaska Natives to help bring Native perspectives to the story: writer and filmmaker Andrew Okpeaha MacLean, Inupiaq; writer Vera Starbard, Tlingit; and consultant Peter Blanchett, Yup’ik.
Starbard and MacLean talked with KTOO’s Rhonda McBride Thursday. They said the show’s being shot mostly in Vancouver and British Columbia with some scenes in Alaska. But the northernmost state plays a big part in the show, MacLean said.
“Alaska kind of has this, like, this mythic quality in people's imaginations. And it kind of does in reality too. I mean, there's no place like Alaska, so that's what people are gonna want to tune in for.”
A dark side to Alaska’s mystique, though, is its high rate of violence against women – among the highest in the country. A 2015 federal Indian Law and Order Commission report stated, “Based on their proportion of the overall State population, Alaska Native women are over-represented in the domestic violence victim population by 250 percent; they comprise 19 percent of the population, but 47 percent of reported rape victims.”
The state recently hired retired state trooper Lonny Piscoya, of the Nome Eskimo Community, to serve as the new missing and murdered Indigenous persons investigator.
Starbard said the show will help people see the reasons behind violence against women in Alaska. “I'm hoping it will bring them foundational reasons for why these things happen and look into that as well as see the excellence and the joy and the beauty of Alaska.”
She said the show will also highlight a feature of Alaska Native life that builds resilience.
“The thing that came up–almost every single conversation–that ended up being a strong theme was the sense of community that Alaska Native people have,” Starbard told ICT, “both the responsibility to your community and how much that community takes care of you, looks after you, holds you accountable.”
She said the talent assembled for the show is outstanding. The director is multiple Academy award-winner Tom McCarthy, who co-wrote and directed “Spotlight,” a film about the Boston journalists who uncovered widespread sexual abuse by Catholic priests.
Former Anchorage Daily News reporter Kyle Hopkins of Anchorage, who won a Pulitzer Prize for a series on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, is an executive producer of the show.
The supporting role of a Tlingit reporter is played by Grace Dove, who is Shuswap of the Canim Lake Indian Band in British Columbia. She had a role in “Revenant” that starred Leonardo DeCaprio, and won the American Indian Film Institute’s 2020 Best Actress award.
MacLean said the tight deadlines and magnitude of putting together the series has been exciting but also challenging.
“Somebody compared it to building a train while it's hurtling down the track. And I think that's kind of right ... it's a very intense situation on many, many levels.”
“Alaska Daily” premieres on ABC/HULU Thursday, Oct. 6 at 10 p.m. ET
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