Above: Ron Scott with Bill Minsky
Ron Scott is the first indigenous person outside of Toronto to produce, own and run a one-hour dramatic series about Canada’s Aboriginal peoples. The locally shot Blackstone, which airs on ATPN, features even more firsts for First Nations Canadians.
“Some of the things I wanted to do in the Aboriginal story-world is reflect on things that no one has really seen,” says Scott, president of Prairie Dog Film + Television.
Blackstone’s first season hinted at a connection between residential school abuse and unvarnished band corruption, family violence and substance abuse.
The second season, which began shooting in July, explores a story arc inspired by the “highway of tears,” a stretch of Hwy. 16 from Prince Rupert to Prince George, B.C., where dozens of women, many of them Aboriginal, have gone missing or have been murdered over the past four decades.
But Scott doesn’t just want the show to pass over the highway. With his poignant drama, he’s digging up and exposing the roots.
“It’s an epidemic and it’s a product of the residential schools and foster families,” says Scott. “There’s a lot of overlooked dysfunction that was a byproduct of residential schools … because these children weren’t raised by their parents.”
The show has been a hit with First Nations Canadians, on and off the reserves.
“Pretty much every single native person I talk to knows of Blackstone,” Scott says. “It’s impacted a community to depths I could never expect.”
In three years, Scott has jumped from producing the lifestyle show Cowboy Country, to executive producing the half-hour comedy Mixed Blessings as well as My Greenhouse and, finally, on to the one-hour drama Blackstone.
Influenced by shows like Friday Night Lights and The Wire, the show is also an insider’s view of a culture existing within the constraints of larger political interests.
“Blackstone is an unmuted exploration of power, politics and relationships on a First Nation reserve,” he says. “Blackstone is controversial, confrontational and collision-filled. First Nations are the first audience, but non-natives find it accessible too. There’s been so many non-native people who don’t understand the Aboriginal plight in Canada because there’s such a disconnect from residential schools and the realities of Aboriginal people.”
He adds, “When I drill down to what’s important about the show, it’s about taking responsibility for your own life. That’s really the core of Blackstone.”
The show has earned acclaim from both its critics and TV-industry peers.
Blackstone received two Geminis last month, including best leading actress in a dramatic role for Michelle Thrush.
In 2010, the Rosies, which recognize the best in Alberta film and TV production, awarded it for excellence in production, acting and screenwriting — the latter going to Scott himself.
Most recently, New Zealand’s Maori TV has picked up the show, proof that the themes can cross over and affect indigenous people half a world away.