Tazbah Rose Chavez, a member of the Bishop Paiute Tribe and a 2005 BUHS (Bishop Union High School) graduate, is now a successful Hollywood writer, director and producer. She shared some reflections on her own career path while giving a broader overview on “Native Representation and Storytelling in Television” at a packed lecture at the Owens Valley Paiute Shoshone Cultural Center on Monday, February 13.
Chavez is the daughter of Paul Chavez and Valerie Tallman and the granddaughter of Martin Chavez and Dorothy Stone.
She was recently nominated for a WGA (Writers Guild of America) award for an episode of “Reservation Dogs” that she wrote and directed. “Reservation Dogs” is a Hulu original series. Chavez screened the episode, entitled “Wide Net,” to conclude her presentation.
“Reservation Dogs” is groundbreaking because it features a writer’s room which is entirely of Native descent. The show’s creator, actors and directors are also Native.
This contrasts with other series Chavez has worked on like Resident Alien (she was the only Native American writer on staff) and Rutherford Falls (where half the writer’s room was Native American).
Native American writers, she said, comprise approximately 1% of all working television writers.
And the reason this is critical: the writers’ rooms are where good ideas (and not-so-good ideas) stem from. The more representation you have at the start of the process, the more likely the end product will reflect truth.
“We are the original storytellers of America,” she says, “But our stories have been told by the people in the room. Until now, that’s been mostly white. And male.”
The popular series “Yellowstone,” she notes, has big Native characters … but zero Native Americans in its writers’ room.
But it appears that shows like “Reservation Dogs” are changing that.
And now viewers are getting exposed to the dry humor of writers like Chavez.
The “Wide Net” episode features a Girls’ trip to a work conference – which represents a rare opportunity to get out of town and let loose a little bit. One of the most memorable lines: “White people go to Cancun. We go to IHS conferences.”
She also talked about the influence of casting directors, and told a story about how casting directors may subconsciously choose people they’re comfortable with, but are those people the best, most authentic choices?
Chavez’s route to a television career was anything but predictable or preordained.
In fact, she was in the beauty care business for 12 years prior to turning her attention to Hollywood.
But her skill as a writer was evident from a very young age.
And her mother is a journalist and writer, so it’s in the genes.
Tazbah said that when she was in the third grade, her teacher would send her over to the middle school to attend a poetry workshop with the 8th graders. So her teachers knew her potential.
But she told Monday’s audience that a huge influence was the Aka Tubi Film and Music Academy she attended for two summers (at the ages of 14 & 15).
At the time, her father was running the Owens Valley Career Development Center, and he brought in this program to essentially keep young people engaged and out of trouble during the long, hot summers.
Participants chose either film or music to study.
Tazbah’s two brothers (Paul and Shondeen) chose music. Both play the guitar. She also has an older sister, Dana Arviso.
Tazbah chose film, and ended up making her first short film, an experimental poetic montage, during that second summer.
One mentor she had in the program still remains a mentor – Heather Rae.
Another mentor, Kimberly Guerrero, was an acting teacher at that academy and has since been cast in Reservation Dogs and Rutherford Falls.
Tazbah said her “jump off a cliff” moment came as she was nearing the age of thirty. That’s when she told herself, “I’m gonna really regret this if I don’t give it a shot” and moved back to L.A.
But not everyone at the presentation Monday was totally sold on Tazbah’s success.
As the enthusiastic cries of “Auntie” suggested, her nephew sure wishes she lived in Bishop.
And while she couldn’t divulge any details, she did suggest she “absolutely has Bishop and the Valley in mind” for a future project.
“And I plan to cast all of you” she said brightly.
*Upcoming: Tazbah wrote an episode of “Accused,” which will air for the first time on Feb. 28. The plot involves four Navajo activists trying to shut down a Uranium mine.
Chavez’s lecture, as well as this coming Monday’s program on Standing Rock (which Pike previews on page 13), were made possible by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities in partnership with ATALM (Association of Tribal Libraries, Archives and Museums). Thank Cultural Center Director Tara Frank for bringing these events to Bishop. She says more events are planned for spring.