2018-02-08 / Headlines

‘Hostiles’ Infused With Cheyenne Culture


Actor Christian Bale and Native language/culture consultant Phillip Whiteman, Jr. (Northern Cheyenne) on the set of “Hostiles”, in theaters nationwide now. Photo credit: Lorey Sebastian. Actor Christian Bale and Native language/culture consultant Phillip Whiteman, Jr. (Northern Cheyenne) on the set of “Hostiles”, in theaters nationwide now. Photo credit: Lorey Sebastian. LAME DEER, MT –Set in the late 1800’s, the new major motion picture “Hostiles” is touted as a story of healing and how we can overcome our fears, bigotry, and hate to come to the understanding that we are all connected. In today’s society, where division is prevalent, the message is timely.

Hostiles, directed by Scott Cooper, stars Christian Bale, Rosemund Pike, Wes Studi, Adam Beach, and Q’orianka Kilcher, debuted nationwide last week. Not your stereotypical western, where the focus is on good guy, bad guy; and the bad guy is usually the savage Indian.

Breaking from norm in the western movie genre, the story follows U.S. Cavalry Captain Blocker (Christian Bale) who is given the orders to escort a dying Cheyenne War Chief Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi) and his family North to Montana. It’s about the transformation Blocker goes through from hatred to understanding.

In an effort to bring authenticity to the film, Cooper brought Native director Chris Eyre (Smoke Signals) on board as the Native Consultant on the film. Eyre recruited Northern Cheyenne Chief Phillip Whiteman to assist as an advisor and language consultant to the movie. Whiteman’s companion Lynette Two Bulls (Oglala Lakota/Cheyenne) wrote the phonetics and his sister Jolene Walkslast, a Montana State Certified language instructor, also assisted in teaching the actors on the Cheyenne language.

Director Scott Cooper recently said of Chief Whiteman’s involvement in the movie “That made me not only a better film director; it made me a better human”. “This movie would not exist if it were not for Lynette and Chief Phillip”.

The movie is an echo of the actual historical journey of the Northern Cheyenne in 1878 from Oklahoma, the 1879 breakout at Fort Robinson, and the desire of the Chiefs to bring their people home to the north. Although the movie is not based on actual historical events of the Cheyenne the story is very similar.

Both Whiteman and Two Bulls are First Peoples Fund Community Spirit Award Recipients, and are founders of the nonprofit organization Yellow Bird (Affiliate of the Seventh Generation Fund for Indigenous Peoples) and the Annual Fort Robinson Spiritual 400 Mile Run from Nebraska to Montana; where youth honor their ancestors, and symbolize the strength and resilience of their spirit as Northern Cheyenne.

Whiteman not only taught the Native Actors but worked extensively with Christian Bale. In a recent interview with CBS This Morning, Bale talked about Whiteman’s influence on the movie.

“He would do a blessing every morning for the whole crew which the producers and the AD’s would be really nervous about because it’s always about panic, about time, time, time on film…but it enhanced everything so much. It helped me so much in my performance. I’m very indebted to Chief Phillip for that,” stated Bale.

“Everyday we slowed things way down. We started with a blessing which brought the cast and crew’s energy into alignment, allowing them to be more effective and to get the scenes in less takes. This happened on set and is happening in the movie. It elevates your consciousness and helps you become more awoke. You’ll begin to see things in a whole higher level of consciousness, awareness and spirit,” said Whiteman.

Whiteman also enjoyed spending time on the set with young actor Xavier HorseChief (Little Bear) and the horses, wranglers, stuntmen and crew including Alvin William “Dutch” Lunak and Scotty Azure both Blackfeet from Browning Montana.

In a recent interview with Indian Country Today, Cooper stated, “Even though I’m telling the story from the point of view of a US Cavalry officer, (played by Christian Bale) my hope is a young Native American filmmaker can tell the story from Wes’s point of view, from Chief Yellow Hawk’s point of view, so that we can understand where they came from, their historical trauma and speak to that story.”

“First Nation Peoples have been historically traumatized because of attempted genocide. Today we are reconnecting our youth to history, culture, land and language; and to the spirit of resilience. We are still here. We must tell the stories, for too long Hollywood has depicted us as “the savage Indian”. I commend Scott Cooper for focusing on authenticity of language and the accurate portrayal of our people I feel this film is an important milestone and shift in Hollywood,” added Two Bulls.

The movie purchased by Byron Allen, Entertainment Studios had this to say in an interview for Deadline Hollywood. “I felt Hostiles really captured where we are today. When this movie became available, I said, we have to have it. Just tolerating one another doesn’t get us there, loving and appreciating and engaging one another, does. That makes a stronger America. This movie speaks to racism today, segregation we experienced then and today, and the idea that war isn’t the answer but love is. Then, and today.”

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