Scalped ran for 60 issues, from 2007 to 2012, and won praise from critics for its gritty portrayal of Native mob bosses and thugs, as well as characters trying to do the right thing in a world of poverty and addiction. And there was a lot of killing. A lot of blood. Scalped was often described as The Sopranos on the rez.
The question of whether Scalped was exploitative and harmful was raised from the get-go. (If you want to get a sense of the critical reaction from issue no. 1 and read some thoughts on what was wrong with Scalped, ICTMN contributor Rob Schmidt has a page at his Blue Corn Comics website on it.) Scalped's creators, writer Jason Aaron and artist R.M. Guera, aren't Natives, and whether the world they depicted ultimately treated Native people fairly in the course of their series is a topic for debate. What outrage there was over Scalped seems to have died down as the series gained momentum, winning a place on many critics' "Best of" lists year after year.
Set on the Prairie Rose Indian Reservation, an obvious fictionalization of Pine Ridge, Scalped was partially inspired by the story of Leonard Peltier, Aaron has said. The TV version will be written by and executive produced by Doug Jung, whose most recent credits are writing duties on the Cinemax series Banshee (which, perhaps not coincidentally, has featured an Indian reservation in its second season), although his biggest project in writer-producer mode was the TNT series Dark Blue.
Filmmaker Steven Judd, Kiowa and Choctaw, tells ICTMN he is optimistic about a TV version of Scalped. "I remember reading that it was supposed to be like Sopranos set on the reservation," he says. "After I read the first issue, I thought Donnie Brasco set on a rez would have been a more accurate description. I felt the first issue alone would have made a really cool movie. I for one will watch this when it comes out. I'm sure there will be opportunity for our Native actors to get work on it; I only hope they hire some natives for behind the camera on crew and above the line. It would be cool to see a Native director get an opportunity to helm an episode, my vote would go to Jeff Barnaby [of Rhymes for Young Ghouls], I think the aesthetics of this story fits nicely into his wheelhouse."
Casting will be key, as Scalped will be a chance for Native actors to see screen time on prime time TV. A 2012 blog post at iFanboy.com suggested Michael Spears as the main character Dashiell Bad Horse, and Graham Greene, Irene Bedard, Q'orianka Kilcher and Adam Beach in the other major Native roles.
The network that has ordered Scalped is WGN America, a cable station that is about to make an aggressive push into scripted drama. It starts on Sunday with Salem, about the Salem witch trials; down the road the network will present Manhattan, about the development of the atomic bomb, and then a Ten Commandments miniseries.