For Communications and Ethnic Studies 363 students, D2L listed their course professor as “To Be Announced” up until their first night of their night class. None of the students could anticipate who or what to expect, until newly appointed Northern Arapaho Professor Ernest Whiteman III entered the room, sporting an Elvis Presley collared shirt. Eventually, the Native American film maker and artist would teach them to reevaluate such expectations.
Whiteman was born in Wyoming to a large family of eight children. Whiteman was the second youngest child and the youngest brother out of all of his siblings.
“I was born during one of the coldest winters in my father’s memory in the center of Wyoming on the Wind River Indian Reservation in a time when whole music albums had to be good.”
In Wyoming, Whiteman received an Associate’s degree in Native American Studies and Radio/TV Broadcasting from Central Wyoming College. Whiteman kept busy with his extracurricular, as he served on the public radio station, television station and on his school’s senate. From Wyoming, Whiteman traveled to the windy city of Chicago to pursue his dream of going to film school.
Since receiving his Bachelor’s degree in Film/Video Directing from Columbia College of Chicago, Whiteman has made approximately 32 short films and worked on various projects. He has entered the First Nations Film and Video Festival and the New Voices in Native Media Festival and hopes to continue submitting his works to various Native festivals.
In terms of his favorite directors, Whiteman finds inspiration and enjoyment in Orson Wells, John Woo, Robert Rodriguez, Kenneth Branagh, Christopher Nolan, and John Carpenter’s 1980s works. While he admits that funding presents the most limitations in film, he still advocates independent film making. He feels that it leaves the director at his or her own mercy, rather than at the hands of investors and outside parties. In stride with feeling in control of one’s own film, Whiteman enjoys the editing process most.
“That is where you see your movie come together from all the disparate pieces you have collected. It is also where your creativity can shine with all the limitations that you find yourself in,” he stated.
Recently, Whiteman’s films have mirrored diary-like narratives, and he admits to exploring his identity and his relationships with his parents within them.
“I want to tell stories, no matter the genre, the content or the characters. I would direct a Batman movie if I had the chance. I would be representing my Native culture as a director rather than an image on the screen that can be dismissed as fictional,” said Whiteman.
Whiteman’s love of Batman is derived from his childhood, as his older brothers introduced him to the Batman comic books.
“Batman is a human amongst Gods, yet continually out-thinks, over powers and remains one step ahead. Plus, he just looks cool.”
Although he is partial to Batman, Whiteman admits to liking Trade paperbacks, such as “Blankets,” and “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.” As a comic book enthusiast and artist, Whiteman has also produced many illustrations, some of which he has shared with his students. For Whiteman, the creation process of art is in itself, the true essence of art.
“When I sketch, it is making the lines or coloring the colors. When I write, it’s the typing the word, the story or the poem. When I make movies, it’s shooting and editing. For me, that is the art. The rest is collectable coffee mugs.”
Whiteman has assumed many roles and identities throughout his career as an artist, director, and teacher, but what may be of most interest to Native American studies students is his Northern Arapaho roots. Prior to coming to UW-Parkside, Whiteman used to substitute teach Arapaho Culture at an elementary school on a reservation. Currently, he serves as an upper level Ethnic Studies professor—a job which he had never considered. However, after former Native Americans in Media professor Rita Pyrillis left, Pyrillis recommended Whiteman for her former position. Whiteman obliged, as he thought teaching at UW-Parkside would be a positive opportunity.
“I simply want to introduce students to a few basic concepts. First, that Native Americans do exist in a modern society. Media has held an indelible hand in helping make Native Americans appear as something that is extinct and that type of imagery is something Natives have no control over.”
Professor Whiteman continues to teach his students about expectations, and how they can ultimately be rendered ineffective. In addition to his role as a professor at UW-Parkside, Whiteman works at two other jobs and runs the First Nations Film Festival. In the future, Whiteman hopes to enter feature films to the Tribeca and Canes film festivals.