Killers of the Flower Moon released its first trailer and has film enthusiasts excited, but director Martin Scorsese is taking a major risk that has also made some people nervous. The film follows the true events of a series of murders in the Osage Nation during the 1920s. Scorsese’s Western epic is his first collaboration with Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro together. The film will first premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, with a limited theatrical run starting on October 6th. Killers of the Flower Moon is one of the most anticipated movies of 2023, yet the film has already faced scrutiny and apprehension.
Killers of the Flower Moon is based on a true story and the non-fiction book of the same name. After oil was found on Osage land, the story focuses on the Osage Nation and Oklahoma citizens as they grapple with the unsolved murders of Osage people. The production has had Scorsese and Dicaprio attached since 2017. Anticipation for the film grew after the first photo featuring DiCaprio and Lily Gladstone was released in 2021. Killers of the Flower Moon is a morally complex story that brings light to a dark time in American history, which makes the story’s depiction more subject to scrutiny.
A primary reason why Killers of the Flower Moon is a risk for Scorsese is the stereotypical depiction of indigenous people throughout film history. Hollywood has often stereotyped indigenous people, like in The Last of the Mohicans or Dances with Wolves, as magical healers, vicious warriors, or submissive maidens. Killers of the Flower Moon’s first photo arguably contained the maiden stereotype by showing Gladstone’s Mollie Burkhart staring lovingly up at Dicaprio’s Ernest Burkhart. These stereotypes have harmed indigenous communities by stripping away individual identities in film. While films are a product of their time, Killers of the Flower Moon must show growth, compassion, and individuality within its Osage characters.
Films centered on indigenous communities have also commonly made indigenous people background characters for white men and women. The white savior narrative is not exclusive to films about Native Americans but can still be found in films such as Dances with Wolves and Wind River. Killers of the Flower Moon’s initial excitement surrounded the cast announcements. While Dicaprio, De Niro, and Scorsese together brings intrigue, their celebrity status concerns people who want a story about murders in the Osage Nation to center on indigenous voices. People with political power have historically been white, but to ignore the perspective of natives would be a disservice to the memory of those murdered.
Scorsese’s Films Have Glamorized Violence
Scorsese has been making films for fifty years that have spanned genres, yet the acclaimed director is especially known for his gangster films and the violence they show. Past films like Goodfellas and The Departed have sensationalized violence, like how Goodfellas‘ pop soundtrack plays in the background as a character takes a bullet to the head. Scorsese’s recent work, most notably The Irishman, has been more somber and reflective in its portrayal of death. How the filmmaker depicts the murders of at least 20 Osage people remains to be seen, but there are key reasons why Scorsese should be more conscious of violence in Killers of the Flower Moon.
From Raging Bull to Gangs of New York, Scorsese has directed historical accounts of violence. What makes Killer of the Flower Moon different is the story of a historic and horrific massacre. The story is inherently violent and tragic, but it also tells a lesser-known story of the United States. By putting a spotlight on this story and indigenous people, Scorsese and the crew are responsible for how people learn about the murders. Unlike Goodfellas or The Departed, the violence here cannot be used to heighten drama or entertainment but to educate and empathize with the Osages, a community that is mostly unrecognized by the public.
Why Killers of the Flower Moon Will Be Different
Since pre-production, Scorsese and the Killers of the Flower Moon crew have reportedly worked closely with Osages in their portrayal on film. From language to customs to the depiction of violence, the Osage Nation Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear and other Osages have been involved in the filmmaking process. To prevent the same flaws and historical discrimination native people have experienced in film and society, Killers of the Flower Moon has collaborated with Osage citizens in telling their story.
Actor Lily Gladstone recently claimed that the Osage Nation’s input greatly informed and changed Scorsese’s vision for the better. The 80-year-old filmmaker also confirmed the necessity to immerse himself in Osage culture as much as possible. If collaboration and inclusion were crucial to Killers of the Flower Moon, the embracement of another culture is a new yet welcome venture for Scorsese’s filmmaking. Killers of the Flower Moon may disturb audiences, but it’s a part of history that the Osage Nation and Scorsese believe needs to be told.