Breaking new ground

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Blackstone creator wants to balance storytelling with social consciousness

John Cameron
Editor-in-Chief

The very first scene of Blackstone, a new hour-long drama series airing on Showcase and the Aboriginal People’s Television Network (APTN), shows a trio of teenagers killing time at an abandoned rural shack. They play around a bit with the junk lying around the property before ducking into one of the doorways, smoking something from an improvised pipe, and huffing something else from a garbage bag. Sounds become dull and the camera’s jittery movements become fluid as the teenagers sink into an empty daze.

Maybe the most shocking thing about it is how natural it feels – the teens turn to drugs as if it were just something else lying around the abandoned shack, something easy to do to pass the time.

For series creator Ron E. Scott, starting with this scene made sense for a number of reasons.

“I think one of the ways to establish, you know, a bigger picture is to look into a focused scenario, if you will, of where characters start at,” he explained. “The starting point for those characters in the show. And I think what it does is it also, in another way, it provides us with a setup of what’s to come.”

What’s to come is broad – an in-depth examination of First Nations reserve life, focusing simultaneously on band politics and on the people those politics affect. And while the show later focuses on more sober and adult individuals, the image of the kids getting high is never far from the viewer’s mind.

The goal of the scene, Scott said, is to draw viewers into the world of Blackstone, a fictional rural reserve plagued with political corruption, drug abuse, apathy, and complacency. What Blackstone’s characters have to say about those issues isn’t necessarily upbeat, either, and a number of scenes – including a speech on taking personal responsibility for one’s problems delivered by Leona, one of the show’s protagonists, to a group of teen addicts – deliver messages that audiences might not be used to hearing.

“I think one of the things our audience has appreciated about Blackstone … is that it has a voice within its own story world that tries to really present some authenticity,” Scott said. “And whenever you create or endeavour to reflect on things that you see, you’re going to run into people who maybe don’t fully understand what the real journey of the show is. Any content creator that endeavours to do something groundbreaking or of any real value is going to run a risk to some degree.”

But at the same time as Scott and the Blackstone crew want to deliver a message and break new ground in terms of presenting social conditions on reserves, they also want audiences to be entertained. It’s a tough balance – the show’s themes and plot points are at times mercilessly dark.

Yet Scott said that entertainment was never far from the production team’s mind, and while he admitted that the pilot required a lot of narrative to be condensed into forty-four minutes, he also added that subsequent episodes are “more character-driven and relational-driven,” allowing viewers to get more of a feel for life on the reserve. That way, Scott said, it can hopefully better reach an urban audience, aboriginal and non-aboriginal viewers alike.

To that end, partnering with two networks has been very helpful. Scott said APTN has been very supportive of the show, and added that Showcase’s team brought valuable perspective to the project that allowed them to “finesse the show in a way that it would be able to be accessible to a non-Native audience as well.”

And with a larger audience will hopefully come a second season. Scott said that the team was already planning places to take Blackstone’s audience in a second season, but that nothing was set in stone.

“Not yet,” he laughed.

But even if there were, he added, he wouldn’t be telling.

Blackstone airs Tuesdays at 8 p.m. on APTN and Fridays at 10 p.m. on Showcase.

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