Scorsese’s new film, Killers of the Flower Moon, is based on David Grann’s book of the same name. It focuses on one central case involving the Osage Tribe, who were continuously displaced by the US government to make room for white settlers. They eventually ended up on seemingly worthless land, only for oil to be discovered, making them the wealthiest community on earth.
However, racist laws declared them “incompetent” and required them to have white “guardians” to manage their money. Many of these guardians stole from them. Businesses charged the Osage exorbitant “Osage prices.” And companies like Phillips and Getty extracted their oil while the government auctioned off permits.
The film centres on a series of murders of Osage members for their oil wealth. With the death toll rising, the newly formed FBI finally got involved after pressure from the tribe. But they faced resistance from local officials like rancher and godfather Bill Hale, who had orchestrated his dim nephew Ernest Burkhart’s marriage to Mollie, an Osage heiress, to get at her fortune as her relatives were systematically murdered.
Mollie was unaware of Ernest’s involvement in the killings. She and the elders tried repeatedly to get government help, even appealing to the president, which is how the FBI finally stepped in.
The film vividly depicts Osage’s struggles and is especially relevant today, as similar injustices continue against indigenous peoples. As Mali Obomsawin discussed in her recent article ‘This land is whose land?’, the oppression of native peoples for their land and resources remains an ongoing issue.
Scorsese shines a light on this history and powerfully conveys the tribe’s perspective. As the Osage chief says, “We just wanted to live in peace with the land; the curse was the discovery of oil. This is where our troubles began.”
DeNiro is excellent, but Lily Gladstone’s performance as Mollie is particularly affecting. I highly recommend both the film and David Grann’s deeply researched book, which provides rich historical detail. Scorsese has created an impactful, timely film that parallels the ongoing oppression of indigenous peoples by governments and corporations.
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