HBO’s ‘True Detective’ collaborates with Iñupiaq for Alaska accuracy

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Marjorie Tahbone works on a replica of an earring needed for a scene in HBO’s “True Detective: Night Country.” (Courtesy of Marjorie Tahbone)

The new HBO series “True Detective: Night Country” features a fictional town in Alaska called Ennis. While most of the filming was done in Iceland, some scenes were shot around Nome. Producers have been in touch with locals to get insights and feedback for the show.

Marjorie Kunaq Tahbone is one of five people on the Iñupiaq Advisory Council, which was the team working with the show. She said the producer’s goal was to “make the show about a place like Nome.” 

“They just wanted people who were from up here to help advise the writing, then the whole process,” Tahbone said.

Tahbone said the board reviewed the scripts for all six episodes featuring Ennis, and shared their concerns with writers about scenes and lines that seemed inaccurate or questionable.

One of those changes was featured in the first episode.

“There’s a scene where there’s caribou, but in the original script it was elk,” she said. “And we’re like, ‘we have no elk in Alaska, let alone up in the Arctic.’”

She said the council encouraged producers to include Iñupiaq words and learn about the meaning behind traditional Alaska Native stories. Tahbone said they even helped choose most of the Iñupiaq names for characters in the town. 

The council also encouraged including trigger warnings for the show because some episodes involve missing and murdered Indigenous people.

“We advised about leaving traditional parts in and taking other elements of the story out just to maintain the integrity of the story and kind of keeping it true, but also kind of holding it close,” she said. “It’s kind of like not wanting to give away too much, because people who aren’t from our area who weren’t raised in our culture, can misunderstand or just not have any clue what’s being said.”

Tahbone is also a traditional Inuit tattoo artist and helped design some of the tattoos on screen.

She said the show is a “melting pot” of unique cultures and includes people from other Arctic communities like Greenland and Canada.

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Tahbone stands with actress Jodie Foster at the premiere of “True Detective: Night Country.” (Courtesy Marjorie Tahbone)

Tahbone said she was glad to be part of the advisory council and to help ensure the content was as accurate and respectful as possible. She said she hopes it can pave the way for more Indigenous people to work in the film industry.

“It was just really cool to see the creative nature of how that works,” she said. “Even how they build the rooms and how they make fake snow fly.”

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