In 1921, mobs of white residents (some of whom had been appointed as deputies and city government officials), burned Black businesses down to the ground in the Greenwood District of Tulsa, Oklahoma . It was my understanding this event was considered one of the worst incidents of racial violence in American history, until I discovered the Osage killings. Approximately beginning around the same time period, members of the Osage Native American tribe of Osage County, Oklahoma, were murdered after oil was discovered on their land. At least 60 or more Osage were mysteriously murdered with little to no investigation. It was believed that William K. Hale was behind a good portion of these lives being taken under the guise of being an ally.
Based on the 2017 novel by David Grann, Killers of the Flower Moon pulls back the curtain on these atrocities from the lens of individuals that lived through it, Molly Burkhart (Lily Gladstone), Ernest Burkhart (Leonardo DiCaprio) and William K. Hale (Robert De Niro). Directed by legendary filmmaker Martin Scorsese, the film opens with a discovery bursting crude dripping over dancing bodies of Osage discovering oil aka black gold. Audiences are then taken on a history lesson of the Osage living lives reserved for the rich, white and elite. Shortly thereafter, the names of missing or murdered Osage are shown stating they were found dead or murdered with no investigation, as we continue through a history lesson of the five civilized tribes in Oklahoma (Cherokees, Chickasaws, Choctaws, Creeks, and Seminoles) and the meaning of Flower Moon (Blooming of Flowers), Fire ( Agni) and Sun (Surya).
It is not surprising to discover yet another cinematic history lesson, which is usually comes in the form of Black stories (Hidden Figures, Roots, etc…). However, this film concentrates around indigenous people being victimized by white men out of greed and a desire to admonish control over those they deem unworthy of wealth and good fortune. What is surprising is this tale is not told from an Osage point of view, but rather from Ernest Burkhart perspective. I would be less than honest if I didn’t say it is disconcerting that the most we ever hear from Molly is a little less than 20 lines of dialogue. Lily Gladstone as Molly is powerful in the dialogue that isn’t spoken (particularly in the scenes she is grossly on the verge of a diabetic coma), but that doesn’t make me yearn for wanting to hear this story from her point of view any less. Oscar winners Robert De Niro and Leonardo DiCaprio do not disappoint with their characterizations of Hale and Burkhart. However, their signature styles are more apparent in this film more so than any others. DiCaprio’s performance will bring you back to the one first times we fell in love with him (What’s Eating Gilbert Grape) while mesmerizing us simultaneously in conveying a man who is conflicted by love and money (Burkhart often states, “Well, I do love making money” throughout). De Niro is an amalgamation of Jimmy from ‘Goodfellas’ and those nickel slick carnival hustlers masking their evil with a sweet, southern accent. It goes without saying that are skillfully and artfully excellent.
Scorsese once again beautifully captures the story with images carefully crafted and captured by his long time editor Thelma Schoonmaker and cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto. Clocking in at 206 minutes (three hours and some change), you barely notice the length as you will be so engrossed in the story. However, who hails from Cherokee and Blackfoot descent and as much as I love all of the aforementioned artisans and their contributions to the cinematic landscape, my only criticism would be to have wished this story told by through the lens of an indigenous filmmaker giving her/she/they an opportunity to share history without the glare of the white gaze strewn throughout.