About: Why HAMLET?

HAMLET-Steel-TITLERedshade Productions HAMLET: Synopsis

The story of Hamlet is about the indecisive nature of a young man when presented with various facts about the death of his father. It is a story always told in the rigid nature of the stage, played out by a specific type of actor that typically tend to fit the part of a Danish nobleman in his early-30’s.

What if we were to take that story and conform it to the collective narrative of a Native American society in modern times? For so long the culture, motifs, words, even the very face of Native peoples have been appropriated into the media of American culture, Anglo culture, but what if a lone Northern Arapaho and his crew were to commit the most grievous sin of cultural appropriation, but in the reverse direction? What if we took something that is the epitome of Anglophilia and make it into a Native story?

As with most Native story, it begins with a ghost: ghost tells his living son that his own brother murdered him and took his wife and his crown, and does the most unthinkable thing any father could do – he asks his only son to avenge him, mete revenge upon his own blood! That is the tale at the heart of Hamlet, which is why he is so decisive in the story. But all of this lie in a larger backdrop of intermingled corporate greed and political dealings that almost seem to blot out the core of our narrative.

Young Fortinbras, the Prince of Norway is plotting to take back the lands lost by her father in the old wars, whereupon it was agreed, that if Old Hamlet were to die, the lands are to revert to the control of Norway. But Claudius, the uncle of Hamlet and new king, has not only usurped the throne from his nephew, but also usurped the claim of Fortinbras.

Gertrude, Hamlet’s mother is a cunning and ruthless creature, playing into the expectations of an older woman remarrying. She ignores the slights on her age and her ambitious behavior. When she hears of Hamlet’s madness and its focus on her new husband, she sees a way to make a grab for the throne herself. Until she hears of the movements of Fortinbras, unexpectedly putting her plans in the path of an indefensible conquest. At her core, she is also a mother and if she can get her son to act in both of their plots, maybe she can come out ahead. But will these moves cost her, her son? Though she feels trapped by the society she lives in, can such a power play free her, or will it cost her soul?

This Hamlet takes place in an alternate future of despotic oligarchies – a future where corporations have arisen to become their own nation-states. At the head of these Corporations are rich families that run territories like the mafia and big business with hired armies at their disposal.

Hamlet’s main motivation is to quit this world, to renounce his birthright. After his father’s death, he is ready to honor his father’s agreement with Norway Group and settle into a quiet married life with Ophelia. But Claudius’ usurpation disrupts that plan.

These threads can be explored in a real world Native cultural sense. I am simply asking to help to finish this film. No one has ever adapted Shakespeare in such a way. Even Native people have never thought to conform it to a modern Native sensibility.

Something too much in this.

Here I present a short video about why I decided to make a no-budget, full-text, full-length contemporary adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” that features an all-Native American cast.

Written, Voiced, Edited & Produced by
Ernest M Whiteman III

So  “Why HAMLET”?

While watching the DVD of the Kenneth Branagh version of HAMLET, I heard Branagh mention something in the introduction of the movie. He stated that the full-text, full play version of William Shakespeare’s HAMLET has never been put on film for a movie, and, he stated proudly, smugly actually, “…and never will be again.”

My first thought was “bullshit”. My next was, “I’m going to do one.”

What this website represents are my notes and musings on my attempt to bring a full-text full-length version of HAMLET to the screen. Again. So, how do I make my version stand apart from the many other versions of “Hamlet” that have come and gone? Simple, cast Native American actors. Using Native actors removes the many expectations that are attached to a project such as this.

Initially, I thought it would be funny to see Native people speaking Elizabethan English, but the more I thought about it, the more I enjoyed the idea of subverting expectations of both, what kinds of movies a Northern Arapaho director can do (Which is something I am always trying to do) and to subvert the expectations of a “Native American Hamlet Movie.”

No, to adapt it into the Arapaho culture and set it in the “Old Times” is grossly expected and keeping the Elizabethan dialogue would challenge the notions that Natives do not always have to wear bead and feather or be in reservation grief porn dramas or wacky comedies to be seen as people.  HAMLET is set in a contemporary but vaguely futuristic setting so we can get away with the dialogue and monotonous costuming, where the tone has more of a political intrigue/crime drama feel.

Another idea I enjoyed was this: since Native American culture has been assimilated and appropriates for over a century for movies and media, what if a Northern Arapaho appropriated something from English culture, and why not the greatest literary play?

"Parsing out the text" L-R) Mike J. Marin - HORATIO, Larry Jahn - Boom Mic, Christian Cuba - Camera/1st Assistant Director, Ernest M. Whiteman III - HAMLET/Director (Image by Sara Rene)
“Parsing out the text” L-R) Mike J. Marin – HORATIO, Larry Jahn – Boom Mic, Christian Cuba – Camera/1st Assistant Director, Ernest M. Whiteman III – HAMLET/Director (Image by Sara Rene)

I have decided to shoot on digital video using DSLR cameras to give it a more immediate, documentary feel as the color will wash out from time to time. I will work to stay away from “shaky cam”. Monologues can be, but not necessarily, direct to camera addresses via YouTube, Vines, etc. Also, I hope to steer clear of the fruity, uppity Shakespeare cadence that many actors tend to adopt when reciting Shakespeare’s prose. We are not reciting. We will be conversing. In the scenes I have shot so far, I feel I have been successful in that.

We wil shoot in the cinema veritas style ala Goddard’s “Breathless”, or the Dogma95 people using available lighting and found locations.

The look of the costumes should be slightly militaristic. Lots of black or formal corners and ribbons. Maybe Tablets or Smart Phones can replace books? DV and text messages? Need to adapt to a futuristic setting. How?

I have thought long and hard about this adaptation and feel it is a good match for my feature film directing debut. I have been working on this since 2010 and am glad to finally be able to put some of my HAMLET ideas before the camera. I hope to create a safe space for the actors to work in to help them bring the characters to life in a way that makes it easier for them to slip on the characters.

Also, I am trying to shoot as much as I can budget-free. Everyone so far has volunteered their time and talents to the creation of this truly unique project that I have not seen ever in Native Media. I do this as a challenge to Native America that art cannot and should not be tied to commerce. That the “Pay-for-Play” attitude we have is what is holding us back in creating real art that matters with an emphasis of message over the monetary. Also, to challenge the Native community  where rallying around a project like this is always seen as no more than idle talk. I believe we can do this as a community and I am so proud of the folks that have come along and rendered service for this movie so far.

We have far to go to get this done. If you have a location in Chicago we can use, we do not plug in lights nor do anything more than superficial set dressing, please let us know.

For more information, please continue to visit this webpage or for direct inquiries, contact me at ronin-redshade@att.net

Thank you!


Hamlet: Opening – A Video Storyboard from Ernest M. Whiteman III on Vimeo.

Ernest M. Whiteman III – Director, writer, camera operator, producer

Christian Cuba – Assistant Director, camera operator



EDITOR – Ernest M. Whiteman III

AUDIO CREW– Lawrence Jahn


PRODUCERS – Mike J. Marin, Allen Turner, Sara Rene, Lawrence Jahn, Christian Cuba


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