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FILM FACTS: 6 Things to Know About “Killers of the Flower Moon”

Explore the gripping tale of "Killers of the Flower Moon," a film born from David Grann's narrative, and discover its transition from inked pages to the cinematic universe under the vision of Martin Scorsese.

The cinematic masterpiece, “Killers of the Flower Moon,” has garnered immense attention for its gripping portrayal of dark historical events. As the 20th century began, the Osage Nation stumbled upon a fortune in the form of oil, propelling them into the limelight of wealth. However, this boon became a bane as white interlopers, lured by the Osage’s prosperity, employed sinister means to exploit them, leading to an unsettling chain of events. At the heart of this narrative is the tender romance between Ernest Burkhart (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Mollie Kyle (Lily Gladstone). Supported by eminent actors like Robert De Niro and Jesse Plemons, and directed by the iconic Martin Scorsese, this film adapts David Grann’s acclaimed book, intertwining love, deceit, and historical intrigue. If you’re among the curious minds yearning for a deeper understanding of the intricate layers that make this movie a standout, you’re in luck. We’re about to unfold 10 enthralling facts that will cast “Killers of the Flower Moon” in an even more intriguing light!

1) Unearthing History: The Making of “Killers of the Flower Moon”

“Killers of the Flower Moon” emerged from the profound storytelling of acclaimed author and investigative journalist, David Grann. His knack for reviving forgotten histories came to the forefront yet again with his 2017 book, serving as the movie’s foundation. This true American tale, set in the 1920s, doesn’t just recount the greed-fueled exploitation and harrowing injustices suffered by the wealthy Osage Nation at the hands of white opportunists. It also marks a pivotal moment in U.S. history, chronicling the inception of the FBI.

Grann’s narrative caught the attention of Leonardo DiCaprio, leading to a passionate collaboration with director Martin Scorsese. Despite Scorsese’s busy schedule, the potential for this story to be his unique take on a “western” fueled his commitment. Drawn to the genre since childhood, Scorsese saw “Killers of the Flower Moon” as an opportunity to delve deeper into real history, rather than repeat traditional myths. His approach? To create a film that wouldn’t just narrate but would inspire dialogue about America’s past and its ongoing impact on the present.

2) Scorsese’s “Killers of the Flower Moon”: From FBI Procedural to Personal Betrayal

Initially centered on FBI agent Thomas Bruce White Sr. as the hero, Scorsese and Roth’s adaptation of David Grann’s “Killers of the Flower Moon” underwent a significant transformation. Following concerns about perpetuating a “white-savior” narrative, the filmmakers found their emotional core in the complicated relationship between Ernest Burkhart and his Osage wife, Mollie, turning the narrative from a straightforward investigation to a deeply personal story of trust, love, and betrayal. This pivot was sparked by an informal script read that left DiCaprio questioning where the story’s heart lay. Their solution emerged from the real-life court transcripts and Grann’s retelling of the Osage murder trial, focusing on Burkhart’s chilling testimony of his role in the conspiracy against his wife’s family, orchestrated by his own uncle for financial gain.

This pivot wasn’t just a storytelling choice, but a reflection of the filmmakers’ dedication to truth and representation. Leonardo DiCaprio, who was deeply involved in the project, expressed the importance of capturing the Osage perspective, a sentiment echoed by Grann himself. Instead of just being another crime story, the movie evolved into a haunting exploration of personal dynamics set against a backdrop of cultural and economic exploitation. Scorsese, known for his character-driven films, found the story’s heart in the intricacies of human relationships and the corrosive nature of greed, ensuring that the adaptation was both captivating and culturally sensitive.

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3) Leonardo DiCaprio and Lily Gladstone’s Deep Connection to “Finding Killers” Casting Choices

Leonardo DiCaprio’s portrayal of Ernest Burkhart was deeply influenced by the Osage community, shedding light on the actor’s dedication to authenticity. Similarly, the selection of Lily Gladstone as Mollie was not just a casting choice, but a nod to the importance of representing indigenous voices. Her Native American heritage and experiences brought layers of depth to the character and the story as a whole.

This emphasis on genuine representation and character depth didn’t stop with the film’s leads. Martin Scorsese, a master at crafting layered narratives, ensured that every character, from major to minor, had depth and dimension. Robert De Niro’s role as William “King” Hale echoes this, presenting a character not easily boxed into the conventional dichotomy of hero and villain. De Niro’s Hale is depicted as a multifaceted individual, reflecting the complexities of real-life figures. Furthermore, the film’s decision to cast established actors like John Lithgow and Brendan Fraser in seemingly smaller roles demonstrates the narrative’s commitment to storytelling richness. Every character, no matter how small, adds to the film’s intricate tapestry, painting a vivid picture of a historically significant era and the intertwining lives within it.

4) Embracing Authenticity: How Scorsese’s “Killers of the Flower Moon” Intertwined with the Osage Nation

In an unprecedented move of cultural immersion and respect, Martin Scorsese, in his preparation for “Killers of the Flower Moon,” involved the Osage Nation at every stage of production. The film was shot on location in the Osage reservation, incorporating insights and personal stories from the community to ensure a truthful representation of their history. Notably, the cast featured over 44 Osage actors, with key roles filled by Native Americans, affirming the film’s commitment to authenticity. 

Beyond the on-screen representation, Scorsese’s production set a new benchmark for behind-the-scenes inclusivity and cultural engagement in filmmaking. The production team’s dedication extended to hiring Osage artisans, craftspeople, and consultants who contributed significantly to various departments of the film. The involvement of the Osage was not just ceremonial but integrative, with individuals like Osage artist Addie Roanhorse playing a pivotal role in production design, and cultural consultant Julie O’Keefe influencing the wardrobe department, ensuring cultural accuracy and respect were woven into the film’s very fabric. Furthermore, the engagement with the Osage language program demonstrated a profound commitment to linguistic authenticity, with native speakers coaching the cast in the language that would resonate throughout the drama. This deep collaboration signified a broader move towards not just telling stories about indigenous communities, but actively inviting them to participate in the storytelling, creating a narrative that’s not only compelling but also culturally truthful and respectful. This collaborative spirit culminated in a poignant land blessing ceremony attended by cast, crew, and the Osage community, underscoring the deep mutual respect and commitment to telling this impactful story with the reverence it deserves.

5) The Magic of Set Design with Jack Fisk

For the production of “Killers of the Flower Moon,” legendary production designer Jack Fisk, known for his expertise in constructing outdoor sets, faced the challenge of recreating 1920s Fairfax on Osage land. The modernization and wear of the original town over the years posed challenges, but an opportunity arose when the Osage Nation bought land in Pawhuska, planning to transform it into a parks and recreation area. After obtaining permission, Fisk built a train station on this land, complete with twelve hundred feet of track and an authentic locomotive.

In addition to his remarkable contributions to the film’s setting, Fisk’s approach to set design goes beyond mere visual appeal; it’s a complex, multi-layered process aimed at narrative enrichment. His commitment to historical accuracy is evident not just in the grandeur of the main sets, but also in the intimate spaces the characters inhabit. Every home, office, and marketplace was a deliberate construct, reflecting the lifestyles and cultures of the Osage people during the 1920s. Fisk’s dedication extended to covering a street with dirt to enhance the western feel of the setting, a testament to his attention to detail and deep respect for historical veracity.

Moreover, Fisk’s emphasis on character-driven design — influenced by his unique perspective as the spouse of an actress — ensures that every set serves as a backdrop that informs and complements the character development and plot progression. His collaboration with Scorsese was not just about building sets; it was about creating a world rich with history and nuance, offering audiences not just a glimpse into the past but an immersive experience that connects them to a profound, shared human story. This deep, narrative-focused approach to set design highlights how integral Fisk’s work is to the storytelling magic of “Killers of the Flower Moon,” blending meticulous research with an understanding of character and story to create a compelling visual narrative.

6) Unique History of the Osage Nation: Ownership and Wealth in Early 20th Century America

One compelling fact that stands out from the history of the Osage Nation is their unprecedented economic autonomy and wealth, particularly in the context of Native American history. The Osage people are notably the only Native American tribe to have purchased their reservation — located in what is now Oklahoma — using their own funds in the 1870s. This autonomy extended to their savvy negotiation with the U.S. government in the early twentieth century, ensuring collective ownership of mineral rights, specifically oil, discovered on their land.

These mineral rights, which were fiercely negotiated to benefit the Osage people as a collective, resulted in significant oil royalties, catapulting the tribe to among the wealthiest groups globally during that era. This wealth was so vast that it led to the establishment of a government-mandated Guardian System, intended to “assist” the Osage in managing their newfound resources. Unfortunately, this system became rife with corruption, leading to large-scale financial exploitation of the Osage people. Their determined efforts culminated in the 1925 congressional act that restricted the inheritance of headrights, ensuring that they remained within the Osage community. This showed their resilience in maintaining their cultural and economic integrity amidst external pressures. Today, the story of the Osage serves as a powerful reminder of the need for economic autonomy, vigilant oversight over systemic frameworks, and the persistent fight against exploitation. Their journey, from buying their own land to navigating the treacherous waters of wealth and exploitation, serves as an enduring testament to their spirit and determination.

In the cinematic realm, where tales are often a blend of fiction and reality, “Killers of the Flower Moon” doesn’t just bring with it a cast of stellar actors and a legendary director, but a profound historical narrative that beckons us to reflect on America’s past. This film is more than a cinematic experience; it’s an invitation to acknowledge and discuss the often-overlooked chapters of American history, a chance to engage with the stories that shape our present. Whether you’re a cinephile, a history buff, or someone who loves a well-told story, this movie is a must-watch, promising not only top-tier entertainment but also important education and discourse. Don’t miss the opportunity to be part of this crucial cultural conversation.

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Killers of the Flower Moon
Crime, Drama, Thriller
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