‘Molly of Denali’ writer visits Cordova

Residents attend a screening of “Molly of Denali” at Mt. Eccles Elementary School. (Nov. 23, 2019) Photo by Zachary Snowdon Smith/The Cordova Times
Residents attend a screening of “Molly of Denali” at Mt. Eccles Elementary School. (Nov. 23, 2019) Photo by Zachary Snowdon Smith/The Cordova Times

For Joe Yates, a career in TV writing began in an anthropology classroom. At the University of Alaska Southeast, Yates developed a greater appreciation for his own Alaska Native background and began considering how Native culture could be explained and demystified for the public.

Around the beginning of 2019, Yates began work as a writer for “Molly of Denali,” an animated TV series produced for PBS Kids and for CBC Television, Canada’s national public broadcaster. The series follows Molly Mabray, the first Alaska Native main character to feature in a nationally distributed children’s show.

At a Saturday, Nov. 23 event hosted by Native Village of Eyak, attendees watched an episode of the show and heard a talk by Yates.

Yates served as head writer on an episode of “Molly of Denali” focusing on Native Youth Olympics games. For Yates, writing an episode that was both funny and informative posed a challenge. According to the terms of one of the grants funding the series, each 11-minute episode must include two minutes of information on particular relevant topics.

“Molly of Denali” writer Joe Yates. (Nov. 23, 2019) Photo by Zachary Snowdon Smith/The Cordova Times
“Molly of Denali” writer Joe Yates. (Nov. 23, 2019) Photo by Zachary Snowdon Smith/The Cordova Times

Writing for the series, Yates has attempted to show Alaska Natives as typical people who use modern technology, and not just as the stone-faced mystics portrayed in popular culture.

“Accuracy is very important to us, because our people’s stories have been misrepresented in TV and in movies for decades,” Yates said. “This is a chance to see how we really are.”

The first season of “Molly of Denali” premiered in July, and the production of a second season seems likely, Yates said.

Yates is also in the process of adapting his documentary short “Voices of Our Ancestors” into a feature-length film.