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With ‘1883,’ Taylor Sheridan Expands His Western Empire

I think one of the reasons the critics haven’t responded to “Yellowstone” is that I’m breaking a lot of story rules. I’ll jump the plot ahead for no reason whatsoever except that I wanted to and it’s entertaining. The people who get it eat it up, and the people that try to look at it with a critical eye see a mess. But that’s what I love about “Yellowstone,” the way that it flows from being campy to melodramatic to intensely dramatic to violent. It’s every old western and new western and soap opera thrown together in a blender. And yes, I think it infuriates and confounds some people who study storytelling. They don’t understand why this thing’s such a hit.

Here’s why: It’s wickedly acted and the location is fantastic, and we’re peeking into a world that no one really knows. I am chewing the scenery and having a blast doing it, and the actors are having a blast as well. It is powerhouse actors getting to say some real chewy stuff.

Is it trickier these days to make westerns, given how closely people pay attention to cultural representation in media? You certainly haven’t shied away from telling stories about both immigrants and Indigenous people.

Ultimately, what one has to ask is: What story are you telling and why are you telling it? If you hold the mirror up to the world and reflect it back accurately, who cares what other people think? You have to tell the stories that matter to you. I have the freedom to do that, constitutionally, and so I will.

I go into these things agenda-less, and I get it from both sides. Some people watch “Yellowstone” and complain that it’s a red-state show. And then the other half thinks I’m a commie if one of my characters is an animal-rights activist. For me, it’s just the world: Here it is.

I can’t stand to pay money or give time to a thing that tells me how to think, even if I agree with it. Social change comes from the arts, yes, but it comes from discussion. Art is supposed to spark the dialogue that affects the change. I try to present both sides, even the sides I don’t agree with.

With westerns, we have to be able to look to our past, and yes, to question. But not everything that happened in the United States from the first time a Western European got here is a tragedy. There were tragedies and there were triumphs, on every side. History is never as clean as we try to make it in the retelling. I like to let my retelling be dirty.

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