LOS ANGELES – On a clear sunny Monday as rush hour traffic passed the famous Dolby Theatre, motorists and tourists heard the sounds of drumming and voices singing in the Osage language. Wahzhazhes had gathered to sing on the red carpet laid out on Hollywood Boulevard for the Oct. 16 film premiere of Martin Scorsese’s “Killers of the Flower Moon.”
More than 60 Osages and their family members arrived for the LA premiere at 5 p.m. in chartered buses. They descended onto the blocked-off red carpet dressed for the special event with many wearing clothing ranging from men’s suit-and-tie ensembles, Indigenous-made jewelry and clothing accessories, and women wearing traditional Osage clothing, blankets and shawls.
The attendees gathered around the drum while the singers sang an original song composed by Scott George for the film. George, Osage, composed the song while serving as a music consultant for the film during its 2021 production mostly in Oklahoma, including Osage Nation communities.
Joining George for the performance were singers Kenneth Bighorse Jr., Vann Bighorse, Paul Bemore, Eddie Yellowfish, Kingston Pipestem, and Norris Bighorse. Lady Singers included Angela Toineeta, Alexandria Toineeta, Julia Lookout, Taveah George, Anna Bighorse, Jennifer Moses and Jacque Jones.
After the song, the group cheered, women lulu’d and they walked the red carpet that led upstairs into the venue where the singers sang again on the auditorium stage before the 3.5-hour film showing. Tourists, passers-by, film enthusiasts and news media members watched the outdoor performance and took photos and videos of the singers and as the group walked toward the front entrance.
The Los Angeles premiere is the final red carpet event ahead of the film’s Oct. 20 release in theaters worldwide. There were also recent premiere events for the film in New York City on Sept. 27 and two in October at the BFI London Film Festival and in Mexico City.
A narrative released by Apple Original Films reads: “’Killers of the Flower Moon’ is an epic western crime saga, where real love crosses paths with unspeakable betrayal. Based on a true story and told through the improbable romance of Ernest Burkhart (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Mollie Kyle (Lily Gladstone), ‘Killers of the Flower Moon’ tracks the suspicious murders of members of the Osage Nation, who became some of the richest people in the world overnight after oil was discovered underneath their land. ‘Killers of the Flower Moon’ also stars Robert De Niro and Jesse Plemons, and is from a screenplay by Eric Roth and Scorsese, based on David Grann’s #1 New York Times best-selling book.”
Unfortunately, none of the principal actors, including the Indigenous cast, attended the premiere events due to the ongoing SAG-AFTRA actors strike. The KOTFM actors joined Scorsese for the film premiere during the Cannes Film Festival in May and a July private screening in Tulsa attended by many in the Osage community before the strike began.
The Osage attendees, who mostly traveled from Oklahoma for the historic Hollywood event, included current and former elected officials, working professionals, ON government workers, and culture, history, music and language enthusiasts with several who served as consultants for the film production, as well as background extras and behind-the-scenes workers.
Scorsese, who attended the premiere events praised the crew and especially the Osage community’s contributions to the film, as well as the singers for their pre-showtime music performances. He also discussed having the film made in Oklahoma.
“It was one of the greatest experiences of my life, I can tell you that,” said the 80-year-old filmmaker. “I knew I had to visit Oklahoma and meet with the Osage and once I got there, I realized the only place to shoot was Oklahoma … And I just fell in love with it and I felt that’s where we had to shoot it. And it took a while because we were delayed greatly by the (COVID-19) pandemic, but being with the Osage and the other people who were there, it was one of the greatest experiences because, in a way, sometimes these things I do, I get involved purely for the curiosity of who the other people are, what our similarities are and what our differences could be and that’s what did it for me.”
For audiences who will see the film, Scorsese said, “First I would like them to feel that they’ve been immersed in a world that reflects who we are and the way we are today. It does reflect that and things you know, each generation, you gotta teach anew, teach anew everything.”
Artist Addie Roanhorse, who served as a consultant, said for fellow Osages, “I hope there’s some healing (after seeing the film) because after I watched it the first time, it felt like someone handed me something invisible, very heavy and I carried it around. But it also sparked conversations with other Osages that we never really had because we never really talked about it.”
Roanhorse said working on the production was important because “we were ensuring that everything was being done correctly. There’s so many facets to being Osage, it’s like if I didn’t know the answers, somebody else would. We just wanted as many Osages on set as possible so that we would all catch something. It was huge – 200-something sets – people going in 20 different directions.”
Chad Renfro, who served as a film ambassador and consultant, said “I would love (for fellow Osages) to take away a sense of pride, a sense of knowing they can feel however they want about the film, that they can voice their own opinions, they could feel free to take a look at how it was put together, seeing all the Osage people that were involved … Everything you see is fully Osage in a way that has never happened before, has never happened in Indigenous film, there’s so many people who were included. That was my goal from the first day, it was my goal to make it there.”
Osage Congresswoman Brandy Lemon served as a community consultant for the film and said, “I would like for people to take away that this is a small part of our history and who we are and how it shaped us. This particular film does not define us as people, but it is a portion of our history that definitely continues to shape us to this day.”
For the film, Osage Language Department Director Braxton Redeagle said “being able to create spaces that were immersed with the language was really important for us … That’s what a lot of our revitalization efforts are trying to lean toward to where we can see people having these conversations and these interactions with the language being a significant part of that.”
Language instructors Chris Côté and Janis Carpenter worked with several of the actors who spoke Osage in several scenes throughout the film.
Carpenter said she worked with Gladstone (Blackfeet/ Nez Perce) and “she was wonderful to work with, she caught onto our language really well, she learned our orthography, she was great. First, we translated the dialogue and then we recorded the dialogue for (the actors) and then we worked with them in-person to get everything just right. And then we also worked with them on the set, so we had a lot of interaction.”
Côté, worked with actors including DiCaprio, Cara Jade Myers (Wichita) and De Niro, who he described as “very dedicated. I met with him sometimes twice a day. He has a monologue in the film that’s in Osage, it’s a prayer and he just really wanted to do his best and thus represent the language of the Osage people.”
Film producer Justine Conte said she applauded the consulting efforts because “I think we couldn’t have done it without the Osage Nation, it would’ve been a completely different film if we shot it somewhere else, if we hadn’t had key people just being there in Osage County … Everyone was a consultant in a way – people who were in background, wardrobe, art department – so it felt very organic in a way that the Osage Nation sort of became part of the crew and part of our community to make the film and I do think it shows on the screen.”
As for after, especially non-Osage, audiences see the movie, Conte added: “I think it’s important that people continue to educate themselves about the things that happened. Because obviously even though it’s a longer movie, we still couldn’t fit everything in. It’s a very specific story about one family whereas this happened to so many families across the Nation and I think that if people don’t educate themselves then it will be forgotten. And so, I think people should read the book (by Grann) and read the other books about it, lots of other podcasts, people should really continue their journey learning about what happened.”
Executive Producer Marianne Bower said “I think from the very beginning, it was very essential to have an Osage voice in the making of the film because it’s a culture that is not (Scorsese’s) own, it’s not a culture that is mine or some of the other people working on the film. So it’s essential to have the Osage involved so that you know you’re telling a story that feels right to Osage people and that they recognize themselves in the story and also just so details of language, clothing that I would never know if something was incorrect, so you’re going to need someone to say ‘hey wait, that’s not right or that’s inappropriate or we wouldn’t do it that way.’”
With the film’s release less than five days away, Bower said “I hope people will be exposed to a story that has been buried for 100 years, with the exception of Native people, this is not a story that is taught in schools and so I hope people’s eyes are widened by the facts that are shown in the film and ultimately movies can be ways in which we learn about other cultures and learn about ourselves.”
Jared Levine served as an associate music producer and represented the late Indigenous musician Robbie Robertson who worked on the film’s score music and the two went to Oklahoma during the production. “Robbie and I went to Oklahoma during the shooting, met at the Cultural Center with Vann (Bighorse) and Talee (Redcorn) and Oliver Little Cook (Jr.) and talked about music, they played us music, we went out to Oliver’s home and they performed some music for us, got some sense of the music and the people,” he recalled.
Robertson, who passed away in August at age 80, viewed the film before his death, Levine said, noting Robertson also visited Pawhuska with a band when he was 16. “We screened it about two weeks before he died, he was so proud of it and so proud of Marty and the worse part of losing him is he didn’t get to be a part of this celebration of it because I think it meant so much to him.”
Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear did not attend the Los Angeles premiere, but attended the recent premieres in New York and London. At the New York event, Standing Bear advised “I think you need to read the book first, because the book has its own approach to this history and the movie goes into the personalities so much more and that’s the big difference and they’re both necessary.” As for audiences who will see the film and learn about the Reign of Terror, Standing Bear said: “Don’t ever let this happen again, never again, there’s ways to stop it but we have to be responsible for making it happen. We gotta make sure this never happens again.”
To view more photos from the Los Angeles premiere of “Killers of the Flower Moon,” visit the Osage News’ Flickr page.