Native language coach helps make movie ‘Hostiles’ ring true

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RAPID CITY, S.D. (KOTA TV) Set in 1892 at the end of the Indian Wars, the new movie Hostiles chronicles an army captain’s evolving understanding of the country’s conquest it’s original inhabitants. Phillip Whiteman, Jr. worked on the set as a language coach and says the actors’ adoption of the Cheyenne language brought realism to the project.

Actor Christian Bale, left, and Phillip Whiteman, Jr., confer on the set of ‘Hostiles.’

The film stars Christian Bale as Captain Joseph Blocker who is forced to deliver a dying Cheyenne Chief Yellow Hawk from jail in New Mexico to his homeland in Montana. An ardent Indian hater, Blocker comes to respect his former enemy. Authentic use of the Cheyenne language is central to the film and was brought to life by Whiteman.
“The language of the Cheyenne people is sacred,” said Whiteman. “And in order for me to be effective a shift in perception, a shift in approach needed to be taken.”

And that meant slowing down the usual frenetic pace on a Hollywood movie set.
“What (Phillip) brought to the set was he would slow things down,” said Whiteman’s partner Lynette Two Bulls who worked with him on the movie. “He would start every morning on the set with a prayer and really bring people’s energy down. He would smudge them, he would burn cedar and bless everybody.”

Added Whiteman: “When you slow down you become more effective and you get more by doing less.”

He said the crew was appreciative as scenes could be shot with fewer takes after everyone became more focused. And the change shows in the final product, said Whiteman.

“The transition that they had to go through and also the story line of Blocker going from hate to respect and then to acceptance and love, I brought that shift of perception using the language,” he said.

To work with the actors, they had to resort to some simple tactics.
“Phillip would actually say the words and I would phonetically spell them out,” said Two Bulls. “So the actors could read it phonetically.”

And Bale took to it like a duck to water.

“If you watch Christian Bale in the movie he speaks Cheyenne perfectly,” said Two Bulls. “It’s awesome to really see that.”

Whiteman agreed. “Christian Bale had an open mind and an open heart and he took the language very seriously as if he was Blocker.”

Two Bulls praised the theme of the film.

“How we can go from hatred, biogtry, division, that separateness and how we can return to oneness and the mindset that we are all connected,” she said.

And Whitemen took the message a step further.

“We can do good but if you are not coming from a place of goodness, if you don’t see yourself good all the work that you do is contaminated,” he said. “But if you can see the goodness in yourself and come from that place everything you do is coming from the goodness of your heart and it will be blessed.”

Whiteman and Two Bulls hooked up with the producers through a local connection. They are Community Spirit Honorees with rapid City-based First Peoples Fund whose executive director, Lori Pourier was married to the noted Native filmmaker Chris Ayer who made the introductions.

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