From left to right: Ava DuVernay; Bird Runningwater; Shaz Bennett; Sydney Freeland
(Courtesy of ARRAY/Kaz Kipp/Shaz Bennett/George Pimentel)
The pilot was written by Sydney Freeland and Shaz Bennett from a story by DuVernay. All three will executive produce with Bird Runningwater co-executive producing. Sarah Bremner and Paul Garnes of DuVernay’s ARRAY Filmworks will also co-executive produce. ARRAY will produce in association with Warner Bros. Television, where DuVernay is currently under an overall deal.
Per NBC, “Sovereign” marks the first Native American family drama developed for network television. The 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.
“Sovereign” marks the latest TV project for DuVernay, who is currently executive producer on the OWN shows “Queen Sugar” and “Cherish the Day.” She also set up the unscripted series “Home Sweet Home” at NBC earlier this year, while she is currently prepping a limited series about Colin Kaepernick at Netflix. She was behind the Emmy-winning Netflix limited series “When They See Us” last year, while she also won an Emmy and received an Oscar nomination for her documentary “13th.” She is also known for her feature work, having been nominated for the best director Oscar for “Selma” while also having helmed films like “A Wrinkle in Time” and “Middle of Nowhere.”
Runningwater belongs to the Cheyenne and Mescalero Apache Tribal Nations, and grew up on the Mescalero Apache Reservation in New Mexico. Since 1996, he has guided and mentored the global Indigenous film community and has supported more than 140 different Indigenous filmmakers through his work.
Freeland is a film and television writer/director and a member of the Navajo Nation. Her debut feature, “Drunktown’s Finest,” debuted at Sundance in 2014. She directed the digital series “Her Story,” which received an Emmy nomination in 2016 for best short form comedy or drama series. Her TV directing credits include “Fear the Walking Dead,” “P-Valley,” and “Grey’s Anatomy.”
Bennett made her episodic television directing debut on “Queen Sugar.” She has also directed episodes of shows such as “Billions,” “Bosch,” and “Animal Kingdom.” She has also written for “Bosch” as well as shows like “The Glades” and “UnREAL.” Her debut feature, “Alaska Is a Drag,” won best feature film and jury awards for directing at Leeds, Chattanooga, Urbanworld, the Smithsonian African American Film Festival and New Filmmakers LA.
Variety's Joe Otterson contributed to this post.