For Martin Scorsese and the Osage Nation’s Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear, cultural respect was key to the filmmaker’s upcoming Killers of the Flower Moon.
“We greatly respected the way David Grann put his skills to a well-researched book and the way he met with our elders. We were comfortable with what came out,” said Standing Bear during a press conference with Scorsese of Grann’s 2017 non-fiction book on which the Scorsese film is based.
The book chronicles a series of murders of the Osage people following an oil boom and the subsequent FBI investigations into the killings, which became known as the Reign of Terror. When he heard that the film rights to the book had been sold, he and others in the Osage Nation were concerned.
“Historically the native peoples went to Hollywood to get work as extras in a band of Indians in black and white movies,” said Standing Bear. “We were concerned, once again, that someone else would be telling our story and this one is very personal.”
Scorsese planned to tell the story of Killers through the perspective of Mollie Burkhart, played by Lily Gladstone, an Osage woman and family member to multiple people murdered at the hands of white men, including her husband Ernest Burkhart, played by longtime Scorsese collaborator Leonardo DiCaprio.
Standing Bear said his concerns were quelled with Scorsese met with him in his offices in Oklahoma.
“When Marty showed up in my office, he started out right off saying we are going to film here. We are going to tell this story through the eyes of Mollie. It was a process of building trust,” said Standing Bear.
Scorsese and his team worked with Osage Nation members on everything from making tapestries for the set decoration to hair styling for actors.
“The first thing we have to do is make sure it’s right by the Osage. Even if I made the film 40 years ago I knew I still felt that way,” said Scorsese. “That meant every possible aspect with every scene with the Osage had to be dealt with people from the Osage nation.”
During the press conference Tuesday, Scorsese also talked about musician and composer Robbie Robertson, who composed his final score for Killers prior to his death in August at the age of 80.
“He visited us on the set and it was pretty hot those days,” said Scorsese of Robertson, noting that the set could reach temperatures of 105 to 110 degrees. “Robbie was sitting there working with the Osage musicians and singers to make sure that the music that he was going to write wouldn’t make an error. So, he was sitting on set, and at one point, I go up to him and said, ‘It’s pretty hot.’ And he goes, ‘This puts hell to shame.’” Scorsese laughed at the memory and added, “He was a wonderful poet.”
Scorsese has a long history with Robertson, famously directing the documentary The Last Waltz, the 1978 concert doc about the farewell performance of Robertson’s music group The Band. Scorsese said, “I can’t take it. He’s dead. It’s been a devastating time. We go back to 1975. It’s like losing a piece of yourself.”
The director pointed out that Roberston was of Mohawk descent. “At least he was able to create something out of the culture and to contribute to the cultures of indigenous people,” Scorsese said.
Apple’s Killers of the Flower Moon is set for an Oct. 20 theatrical release via Paramount, before heading to Apple for its streaming debut. This comes after a premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, where it received overwhelmingly positive reviews.
When asked what he wants audiences to take away from the film about the Osage Nation, Standing Bear said, “We are a people that are still here. We are alive with our culture. We are alive and strong despite the difficulties and the tragedies.”