NBC developing Native American family drama series with Ava Duvernay and Bird Runningwater

The project marks the first Native American family drama developed for network television

It looks like Ava DuVernay is taking her talents to NBC.

The network has given the green light for a pilot for Sovereign, a new project DuVernay has signed on to executive produce alongside Bird Runningwater. The pilot was written by Sydney Freeland and Shaz Bennett from a story written by DuVernay.

Runningwater and DuVernay

The groundbreaking project chronicles the lives, loves and loyalties of a sprawling Indigenous family struggling to control the future of their tribe against outside forces and themselves, marking the first Native American family drama developed for network television.

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Sovereign will be produced by DuVernay’s ARRAY Filmworks in association with Warner Bros. Television. Freeland and Bennett will executive produce with DuVernay, alongside ARRAY’s Sarah Bremner and Paul Garnes who will co-executive produce with Runningwater. 

Bird Runningwater belongs to the Cheyenne and Mescalero Apache Tribal Nations, and grew up on the Mescalero Apache Reservation in New Mexico. Since 2001, he has guided and mentored the global Indigenous film community by nurturing a new generation of filmmakers. Based in Los Angeles, California, Runningwater has supported more than 140 different Indigenous filmmakers through his work.

Sydney Freeland is an Emmy-nominated film and television writer/director and a member of the Navajo Nation. She grew up in Gallup, New Mexico. Her debut feature, Drunktown’s Finest, premiered at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival and went on to receive the Jury Prize at L.A. Outfest. She directed the digital series “Her Story,” which received an Emmy nomination in 2016 for Outstanding Short Form Comedy or Drama Series.

Her second feature, the Netflix original film Deidra and Laney Rob a Train, premiered at Sundance in 2017 and is currently streaming globally. Freeland’s additional TV directing credits include Grey’s Anatomy, P-Valley,Nancy Drew and Fear the Walking Dead, among many others.

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Shaz Bennett’s debut feature film Alaska Is a Drag, which she wrote and directed, won best feature film and jury awards for directing at Leeds, Chattanooga, Urbanworld, the Smithsonian African American Film Festival and New Filmmakers LA. She made her episodic television directing debut on DuVernay’s Queen Sugar, and her additional TV helming credits include Billions, Bosch and Animal Kingdom. Her first TV writing job was on “The Glades,” then subsequently joined the writing team for “UnREAL” and most recently was a writer for “Bosch.”

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