A working actor since her teens, Devery Jacobs, 28, tells the types of stories that would have helped her come into herself more fully at a younger age.
The queer actor, who hails from the Kahnawà:ke Mohawk Territory near Montreal, presented onstage at the Emmy Awards in September with her costars from the FX comedy Reservation Dogs, about a group of Indigenous teens who get into some minor schemes and scrapes while dealing with lingering grief from the loss of a friend the year before.
At the Emmys ceremony, in a room filled with household names like Jason Sudeikis and Kate Winslet, Jacobs and her castmates stood out in the best way. Onstage in a stunning gown from size-inclusive Indigenous designer Lesley Hampton, Jacobs said that diverse storytelling on TV was off to “a good start, which can lead us to the day when telling stories from underserved communities will be the norm, not the exception.”
“It would have changed everything for me and I would have realized who I was [sooner],” she says of the value of centering marginalized people in film and TV.
For Jacobs, who plays Elora on the series, working on Reservation Dogs, from the minds of Sterlin Harjo (Barking Water, Mekko) and Taika Waititi (What We Do in the Shadows, Jojo Rabbit), has been a refreshing experience, especially with trans director Sydney Freeland and queer writer Tommy Pico on board.
Photographer Credit: Mauricio J. Calero, Makeup and Hair: Jodi Urichuk
“I’m so used to be the only Indigenous person on set, never mind queer Indigenous person on many projects that I’ve worked on,” Jacobs says. “When I got to set on Reservation Dogs and I was surrounded by Indigenous culture, many different communities...and trans and nonbinary Indigenous folks, it was so empowering and felt like a coming into ourselves.”
Jacobs has been working since the mid-aughts, but she scored her first starring role in a film and a subsequent lead actress nomination at the Canadian Screen Awards for 2013’s Rhymes for Young Ghouls. She went on to earn accolades for 2016’s The Sun at Midnight. Through it all, she’s been a beacon for queer and Indigenous representation. But it wasn’t always an easy road to get there.
“I grew up in such a heteronormative [Catholic] reservation where queerness wasn’t really discussed, and because I was always straight passing, or because I had moments where I had crushes on boys growing up, I automatically assumed that I was straight,” she says. “It was really when I left my community that I was able to just see different aspects of myself and realize that it had been a part of me for the whole time.”
Next up, Jacobs is excited to star in Ark: The Animated Series with heavy hitters including Elliot Page, David Tennant, Russell Crowe, and Michelle Yeoh. With her past success and several other exciting projects in the works, her commitment to being authentically herself and part of storytelling that centers marginalized groups has only intensified.
“Any decision to be open about who I am has been reinforced by seeing statistics. There was a recent study by the Trevor Project that [showed] Indigenous youth died by suicide at the highest rates than any other ethnic group,” Jacobs says of a 2021 report that revealed the rate of dying by suicide for Indigenous queer youth was 19 percentage points higher than that of white queer youth.
“It was haunting and chilling and reinforcing just how important it is to be out and visible and show that I am proudly queer and that our stories are valid and something worthy of celebrating.”
This story is part of The Advocate’s 2021 People of the Year issue, which is out on newsstands Nov. 23, 2021. To get your own copy directly, support queer media and subscribe — or download yours for Amazon, Kindle, Nook, or Apple News.