‘Killers of the Flower Moon’ is starting conversations about history, mental health and more in Indian Country
Cherokee Nation launches broad expansion into film industry
Sandra Hale Schulman
Special to ICT
Film has become an important part of the Cherokee Nation’s business and identity as the tribe continues to build upon the film office they launched in 2019, the first certified Native American film office in the country.
Now, after years of supporting award-winning productions and $1 million rebates, they are rolling out a reorganization of the tribe’s filmmaking ecosystem and expanding the Cherokee Film Studios in Owasso, Oklahoma.
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Now named simply Cherokee Film, the enterprise includes four branches – Cherokee Film Productions, Cherokee Film Studios, the Cherokee Film Commission, and the Cherokee Film Institute — with 30 full-time employees.
Cherokee Film will continue to offer the enticing rebates for productions filmed in Oklahoma with the services of the tribal film office, but it will also increase production of its own original programming, help tribal citizens break into the industry and create jobs in and around the Cherokee Nation.
A groundbreaking ceremony was held on Wednesday, Aug. 30, for a new 10,000-square-foot studio, which will join a larger, extended reality or XR, facility that opened in July 2022.
“Cherokee Nation has quickly become a leading hub for Indigenous storytellers in television and film,” Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. said at the groundbreaking.
“As we increase infrastructure, explore incentives, connect resources and remove barriers, Cherokee Nation and its businesses are helping grow and amplify television and film production in Oklahoma while making it possible for our citizens to be a part of it.”
Cherokee Nation Businesses announced the expansion in late August with the new company name and divisions, as well as logos, new social media accounts and a website to represent the tribe’s continued efforts.
Breaking new ground
The existing 27,000-square-foot studio — known as Cherokee Film Studios, Owasso Campus — was the first of its kind in Oklahoma and in Indian Country, though the Tesuque Pueblo tribe now operates Camel Rock Studios, a movie studio in an existing building that once housed a casino in New Mexico.
Owasso Campus sits on more than four acres in the Cherokee Nation Reservation and includes dedicated studio spaces with edit suites, a control room, a professional-grade audio booth, crew and client lounges, and hair and make-up facilities to meet the growing needs of production in Oklahoma.
—Tribes open film studios to lure movie, TV productions
The new 10,000-square-foot soundstage will feature a 35-foot ceiling, full soundproofing to cinema standards, a modular truss system with chain hoists, a hair and make-up room, a multipurpose-flex space, 14-foot bay doors for load-ins and RV hookups for production trailers. It is expected to be completed in 2024.
“Cherokee Nation and its businesses continue to stand at the forefront of industry and economic growth in Oklahoma,” Chuck Garrett, the chief executive officer of Cherokee Nation Businesses said at the groundbreaking.
“We are very proud of our ongoing leadership role in helping grow and evolve the film and television industry, and it’s time that our brand recognizes the entirety of those efforts,” Garrett said.
The four branches of Cherokee Film will expand the tribe’s already extensive efforts.
The Cherokee Film Commission will continue to offer its $1 million annual rebate to film production in the state and will serve as the liaison to Indian Country, connecting productions with diverse locations spanning five eco-regions, skilled Native talent and crew, and the virtual production soundstage.
The Cherokee Film Institute will train, develop and elevate Native and local talent to work professionally in the film and media industries, creating sustainable career opportunities within the Cherokee Nation and beyond.
Under the new Cherokee Film Productions, the tribe will continue the popular award-winning television production OsiyoTV and will add new projects that tell Cherokee stories and contribute to the tribe’s language revitalization efforts.
The National Academy of Television, Arts & Sciences recently recognized the show, “Osiyo, Voices of the Cherokee People,” with six Heartland Regional Emmy Awards.
The tribe’s cultural television series, and the short documentaries included within it, continue to be honored with numerous regional, national and international accolades for its approach to sharing real-life stories of the Cherokee people.
The show, which is often referred to as OsiyoTV, ranks among the most-awarded Indigenous-run series in the industry. The 2023 Heartland Regional Emmy Awards bring the show’s total Emmy wins to 22.
Since premiering in 2015, “Osiyo, Voices of the Cherokee People” has featured hundreds of Cherokees from both past and present. The first-of-its-kind series, hosted and executive produced by Cherokee Nation filmmaker and Emmy-winning journalist Jennifer Loren, is breaking barriers and helping change how Native Americans are represented.
And Cherokee Film Studios, meanwhile, will continue to support the local, regional and Native film industries through investments in infrastructure that expand on the tribe’s existing soundstage facility in Owasso.
Hollywood is already gaining interest in Oklahoma.
Among the projects that have filmed in Oklahoma are the “Reservation Dogs” series; the film “Stillwater,” featuring Matt Damon; HBO Max’s “Land of Gold”; and Martin Scorsese’s highly anticipated “Killers of the Flower Moon,” the upcoming Apple+ film about the murder of members of the Osage tribe in the 1920s.
Scorsese’s western shot a few days on Cherokee land and worked with its film office on casting, an experience tribal leaders are hoping to build on.
The first film to receive the $1 million rebate was “Fancy Dance,” the Erica Tremblay film shot on the Cherokee Nation, which made its world premiere in the 2023 Sundance Film Festival and was a finalist in the U.S. Dramatic Competition.
“We knew it was going to be a success,” Jennifer Loren, senior director of Cherokee Film, told the Tulsa World after returning from the festival. “We had a pretty good feeling. That film, everything about it supports the mission of the Cherokee Film Office. It was a great fit.”
Starring actress Lily Gladstone, who is also in “Killers of the Flower Moon” with Leonardo DiCaprio, “Fancy Dance’ was a high-profile first for the Cherokee Nation Film Incentive program though other incentive projects have since been completed.
“(‘Fancy Dance’) is the first to get a check, to get the cash rebate,” Loren said. “There were several projects that were kind of the first wave, but they were the first ones to turn in the ledgers and everything to get their rebate.”
Other projects are on the way, but likely have been stalled by ongoing strikes by both the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, and the Writers Guild of America.
The movie “Twisters,” a sequel to the 1996 film “Twister,” was in the midst of filming in Oklahoma when the industry was shut down by the strikes. The Universal film, with a monster $200 million budget, stars Daisy Edgar-Jones, Glen Powell and Anthony Ramos, and had an expected release date in the summer of 2024.
Loren said four projects pre-approved for the incentive are in line to be filmed in 2023, though the strikes will cause delays.
Among those is a standout Indigenous story by Andrew Troy, a historical feature, “I Am A Man: The True Story of Ponca Chief Standing Bear.”
To qualify for the incentive, a film or TV show working with the Cherokee Film Office doesn’t have to be Native-themed. Cherokee Nation officials say they will consider the projects by merit rather than on a first-come, first-served basis, and special consideration will be given to projects that help dispel stereotypes about Indigenous people.
“The launch of Cherokee Film represents a new way forward, not just for the Cherokee people, but for all of Indian Country and for film and media as a whole,” Loren said in a statement. “With a community-driven mindset, we have built a living, breathing ecosystem to create positive change through the practice of storytelling in the digital age.”
She continued, “With Cherokee Film’s new investments in film and media production and investments in educating our workforce, we hope to create lasting change that will help diversify the stories we see in mainstream media. Our team at Cherokee Film is passionate about creating a better and more inclusive life for the next seven generations.”
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The Future of Rock ‘n’ Roll – from the middle of rural farmlands
For nearly 30 years, a little radio station started in the cornfields of rural Ohio made a name for itself. Now, more than a decade after it played its last song, it’s doing that again.
At the end of May, WOXY, known to legions of fans as 97X, will resurrect its “Modern Rock 500” one last time. It’s a tribute, organizers said, to a small-town station that rocked the radio world, first locally, then nationally and beyond.
Back to the Future
Back in the ‘80s and ‘90s, 97X was the modern rock radio station in southwestern Ohio. And it was my radio station from my first days on campus at Miami University. From its first song — U2’s “Sunday Bloody Sunday” — until its last internet broadcast in 2010, the station was the center of the new music universe for a generation of young people, like me, who lived for something different.
Essentially, 97X and I were both freshmen at Miami then. The radio station had previously been WOXR, playing Top 40 hits, and uncensored versions of Steppenwolf’s “The Pusher,” and Neil Young’s “Cowgirl in the Sand” to appeal to Miami’s college crowd. When Doug and Linda Balogh bought the station in 1981, they asked Miami students what they wanted to hear. The answer was modern rock. So the Baloghs delivered, playing music no one else in the area was giving airtime to.
According to music historian Robin James, WOXY was the sixth modern rock station in the U.S. In her book, “The Future of Rock and Roll: 97X WOXY and the Fight for True Independence,” she says FCC regulations kept the station small, but what it lacked in strength it made up for in individuality.
“The station started off in ‘83 basically copying L.A.’s KROQ (pronounced Kay-rock) playlist,” James said. “By the ‘90s though, 97X was sort of the place for new and different music.”
I spent my first semester at Miami that year trying to figure out who I was and where I fit in. In my world, you smiled at people you met on the street and “punk” was something you dressed up as on Spirit Day if you wanted to be really edgy. My roommates thought I was a rube. But when I heard 97X for the first time, I realized there was more to life than Journey. 97X didn’t play the big hair bands and southern rock my roommates were listening to. They listened to “Faithfully.” I started listening to “Burning Down the House.”
Listening to 97X set me apart. Suddenly, I had this sense I belonged to a new club of shared interests and ideals that were different from most of the rest on campus.
Behind the Music
Oxford back then was just a jumble of concrete amidst miles of cornfields between Dayton and Cincinnati. It was a primarily Republican college in a primarily Republican area in a primarily Republican state.
But 97X was a ministry of liberal ideology in the midst of a campus full of trust fund babies and future country club members. Transmitting to Dayton, Cincinnati, and Northern Kentucky, it broadcast a new sound.
“In high school, I lived in Northern Kentucky at what must have been the very outer edge of their broadcasting radius,” recalled Chris Eddie, now one of the owners of Smiley Pete Publications in Lexington, Kentucky. “I’d have to say my most memorable experience happened at 97Xtra Beats … an all-ages, monthly event held at Bogart’s in Cincinnati … (It) was right as Nirvana‘s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ and Red Hot Chili Peppers’ ‘Give it Away’ had recently come out. The usual, gothy/mopey alterna-girls exploded into dance like it was a New Kids on the Block concert. I knew something had changed in the world of music.”
In 1988, the station rose to fame in the Tom Cruise, Dustin Hoffman film “Rain Man.” Filmed in Cincinnati, the movie featured Dustin Hoffman’s Raymond Babbitt repeating the station’s tagline “97X, BAM! The Future of Rock and Roll.”
From there its notoriety grew.
“They grew to have a national reputation,” James said. “’Rolling Stone,’ for several years in the ‘90s, named them one of the top radio stations in the country. Then later on, ‘Rolling Stone’ named them the last great independent radio station.”
And it was too. Until it wasn’t.
By ‘88, I had left school and was living in Cincinnati, a single girl listening to alternative tunes, hitting raves and pub crawls when I could. I worked as a reporter for the alternative newsweekly “Cincinnati CityBeat,” and 97X was our media partner. As time went on, though, I moved into more corporate jobs and listened to the station less. Then the ‘90s came, replacing concerts and clubbing with marriage and kids.
But during that time, 97X kept its own unique sound and purpose, even as other stations all started to sound the same, James said.
“Basically, everyone was buying up radio stations then syndicating content nationally,” she said. “It was kind of like the ‘Walmart-ification’ of radio.”
WOXY maintained its modern music focus and its independence. It may have even been the radio station that broke Coldplay into American markets, she said.
Former program director Mike Taylor isn’t too sure about that. But he does know it became harder and harder for independent radio stations like WOXY to compete with the corporate big boys. In 2004, Taylor said, the Baloghs sold the license to 97.7 FM, but kept the WOXY name and the station’s music library. The station went online as WOXY.com, one of the first radio stations in the country to have a primarily online presence. Taylor said the station’s reach was suddenly the world.
“I was looking to try and reach people in New York, L.A., San Francisco, and London,” he said. “If we would get an internet request from somebody from some far reaching location, that’s what really primed my pump.”
Online, the station’s reach was international.
“In the early 2000s, a music critic in Brazil was a really strong advocate for 97X,” James said. “The station had a huge Brazilian audience to the point that when (WOXY) had a Brazilian band called The Mosquitoes in for a lounge act, they had them record [the tagline] ‘97X, The Future of Rock and Roll’ in Brazilian Portuguese.”
The station moved to Austin, Texas, Taylor said, and new investors helped keep it afloat. The station couldn’t sustain itself, though, and in 2010 Taylor played the station’s last song, “Answer to Yourself” by The Soft Pack.
Fans of the station, however, continued to talk about it. A podcast sprung up, Rumblings from the Big Bush, hosted by former WOXY DJs Dave Tellmann and Damian Dotterweich, that recounted the days of 97X. In other online spaces, fans put together 97X Reddit threads, blogs, Facebook groups, and Spotify playlists. Some fans say they continue to listen when they can.
“My first memory of 97X was walking into a store in Tri-County Mall that (was playing) these fun, different tunes that I had never heard before,” Jo Ivey, a former ad rep for “Cincinnati CityBeat” said. “To this day, Morphine’s ‘Cure for Pain’ will stop me in my tracks. Concrete Blonde’s ‘God is a Bullet’ reminds me how little time has changed, and I still find time over the Memorial Day weekend to find the Modern Rock 500 online.”
In recognition of that lasting impact, during this year’s Memorial Day week, WOXY will stream the “97X Modern Rock 500 Countdown” online on Inhailer Radio. The broadcast will be a 40th Anniversary “chef’s kiss” to the station’s beginnings, Taylor said. Featuring five 100-song sets led-in by former WOXY disc jockeys, the countdown will air on Inhailer’s website and apps from May 22 to 26, and will re-air over the Memorial Day weekend, with an archived version available after May 29.
Taylor said it’s like getting the band back together.
“I had over 30 people, myself included, that responded with wild enthusiasm to do this,” he said. “We crafted kind of an all-time 500 if you will. We had to kind of limit things a little bit, so the only songs that would be eligible were songs that had previously appeared on the Modern Rock 500 at least once.”
The result will be a mash-up of 20th century “modern rock” songs put together with 21st century technology, he said.
Times have changed since WOXY was at its prime. Radio isn’t the same now that everyone has the opportunity to be their own DJ, he said. But he hopes, like the original, this 500 will have an impact.
Now that I’m older — much older — I can see the impact the station had on me. I still listen to alternative rock, and routinely share new music with my kids. I introduced them to K-Flay and Shakey Graves. They told me about The Bahamas and Twenty One Pilots. They tell me I’m not like other moms. Apparently, other moms my age are still listening to Journey.
Taylor said he doesn’t know if the station will continue to affect listeners.
“I know once this finally hits there’s going to be some outlet out there that’s going to label this as the most pathetically boomer thing ever,” he said. “But my take away from doing this is that it’s just like anything else — how can you tell the impact of something as it’s happening?”
For many, WOXY was an introduction to a world of music we never would have heard otherwise. And it left indelible memories.
This last Modern Rock 500 may be the last memory 97X creates, Taylor said.
A memory of the future of rock and roll.
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