For Martin Scorsese and Osage Nation Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear, cultural respect was key to the filmmaker’s upcoming film. Killers of the Flower Moon.
“We had great respect for the way David Grann turned his skills into a well-researched book and for the way he met our elders. We felt comfortable with what came out,” Standing Bear said during a press conference with Scorsese of Grann’s 2017 nonfiction book on which the Scorsese film is based.
The book describes a series of murders of the Osage people following an oil boom and the subsequent FBI investigation into the murders, 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 became concerned.
“Historically, indigenous peoples went to Hollywood to get work as extras in a group of Indians in black-and-white films,” Standing Bear said. “We were again concerned that someone else would tell our story and this is very personal.”
Scorsese intended to tell the story of Murderers through the perspective of Mollie Burkhart, played by Lily Gladstone, an Osage woman and relative of several people murdered by white men, including her husband Ernest Burkhart, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, a longtime Scorsese collaborator.
Standing Bear said his concerns were allayed when Scorsese met him in his office in Oklahoma.
“When Marty showed up in my office, he immediately started saying we’re 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 creating tapestries for set decorations to hairstyling for actors.
“The first thing we need to do is make sure it’s right near the Osage. Even if I made the movie 40 years ago, I knew I still felt that way,” Scorsese said. “That meant every possible aspect of every scene involving the Osage had to be handled with people from the Osage Nation.”
During Tuesday’s press conference, Scorsese also spoke about musician and composer Robbie Robertson, for whom he composed his final score Murderers before his death in August at the age of 80.
“He visited us on 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 sat there working with the Osage musicians and singers to make sure the music he was going to write wouldn’t make any mistakes. So he was sitting on set, and at one point I went up to him and said, “It’s pretty hot.” And he says, ‘This puts hell to shame.'” Scorsese laughed at the memory and added, “He was a great poet.”
Scorsese has a long history with Robertson, who directed the documentary The last waltz, the 1978 concert documentary about the farewell performance of Robertson’s music group The Band. Scorsese said, “I can’t stand it. He is dead. It has been a devastating time. We’re going back to 1975. It’s like losing a part of yourself.”
The director pointed out that Roberston was of Mohawk descent. “At least he was able to take something from the culture and contribute to the cultures of the indigenous people,” Scorsese said.
Apples Killers of the Flower Moon is scheduled for a theatrical release on October 20 via Paramount before heading to Apple for its streaming debut. This comes after premiering 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 live with our culture. We are alive and strong despite the difficulties and the tragedies.”