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NMAI hosts Martin Scorsese, Lily Gladstone and Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear

Scorsese spoke on the formidable Everett Waller, Gladstone shared her inspirations for portraying Mollie Burkhart, and Standing Bear acknowledged Scorsese’s genius

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Spirits were high as the Washington, D.C.-based Native community attended an event at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian to celebrate the success of Martin Scorsese’s “Killers of the Flower Moon.”

The film recently received 10 Academy Award nominations, including a Best Actress nomination for Lily Gladstone and a Best Original Song nomination for Osage singer Scott George. The film was recently re-released in theaters for a limited theatrical run in 1,000+ locations globally.

The Jan. 26 NMAI event was a “who’s who” with Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland in attendance. Osages David Conrad, Deputy Director, Office of Indian Energy, U.S. Department of Energy and Raymond “Studie” RedCorn, policy analyst for the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Indian Energy Policy and Programs, were in attendance.

NMAI director Cynthia Chavez Lamar was the host for the evening, with her husband Walter Lamar, Indian Arts and Crafts Board commissioner. Also in attendance, Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Bryan Newland, Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs; Kevin Gover, undersecretary of the Smithsonian; actors Tatanka Means, who portrayed FBI agent John Wren in the film and JaNae Collins, who portrayed Reta Smith in the film; Osage Wardrobe Consultant Julie O’Keefe and Osage Consulting Producer Chad Renfro were also in attendance.

Oscar-nominated Osage singer Scott George leads Osage singers as they sing “Wahzhazhe (A Song For My People)” as featured in “Killers of the Flower Moon” at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian on Jan. 26, 2024. SHANNON SHAW DUTY/Osage News

A pre-reception gave time for the Osage singers to warm up, led by Oscar-nominated singer Scott George. Once ready, attendees were ushered into the Mary Louise and Elmer Rasmuson Theater, which seats 314 and was at capacity.

The program began with the Osage singers singing “Wahzhazhe (A Song For My People),” which is Oscar-nominated for Best Original Song for this year’s 96th Academy Awards. The auditorium fell silent as the singers captivated the audience. After it was finished, a standing ovation was given.

Chavez Lamar thanked everyone for being there and introduced the moderator for the evening, journalist Jake Tapper who hosts CNN’s “The Lead with Jake Tapper.” Tapper then introduced Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear, Golden Globe-winning and Oscar-nominated actress Lily Gladstone and Scorsese.

From left, actress JaNae Collins, Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear, director Martin Scorsese, actress Lily Gladstone, actor Tatanka Means at the National Museum of the American Indian on Jan. 26, 2024. Dave Allocca / for Apple

Tapper said Leonardo DiCaprio, who wasn’t at the event, said in past interviews that Scorsese’s commitment to accuracy is well known, but he had never seen Scorsese so committed to accuracy as he was on the set of KOTFM.

Scorsese spoke about an evening in late 2019, when he was invited to an Osage dinner with the Grayhorse people that changed the course of the film.

“My producers took me there and they said ‘you’ll be meeting a few people.’ And, there were over 250,” he said as the audience laughed. “It was amazing. A traditional Osage dinner, of beef and gravy, and meatpies and spoons, no knives and forks. And then the people got up and started speaking. And when they started speaking, I started to think about this catastrophe, this catastrophe I had immersed myself into that was led by the David Grann book.”

“But this catastrophe suddenly had a face, the face of the people there. And they got up and talked about their grandparents, their uncles and one man got up and said you have to understand, William Hale and Henry Roan were best friends,” Scorsese said.

He knew then it wasn’t a simple story of the agents coming in and catching the bad guys, a “who did it.”

“The first shot I take of people coming into the town, they all did it,” he said.

He said Margie Burkhart, the granddaughter of the film’s antagonist, Ernest Burkhart, portrayed by Leonardo DiCaprio, told him that many people have suffered and also said, “’you have to remember one thing, Mollie and Ernest were in love.’ That’s when I knew that’s what the movie should be.”

Osage singers pose for a photo with Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland and NMAI Director Cynthia Chavez Lamar at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian on Jan. 26, 2024. SHANNON SHAW DUTY/Osage News

Tapper asked Scorsese about working with the Osage, and Scorsese talked about the scene when Osage Minerals Councilman Everett Waller ad-libbed for the camera. They needed reaction shots from the meeting attendees for the scene and he asked Waller to help.

“I just stepped out for a moment as I line up these two shots and to look on the video, and as I was stepping out I said, ‘Everett,’ because I knew he speaks this way … umm, he’s rather imposing [audience begins to laugh] and formidable, a little intimidating, and to look at me, I come up to here on him [audience laughs], and I’m like ‘Everett, listen, could you say some things off camera to get a reaction from them?’ He goes ‘Alright,’” Scorsese said. “I go outside for a minute and I hear a noise and suddenly Bobby De Niro’s coming in going, ‘Marty! Come here, come here!’ And I went in and he’s doing this while off camera. I asked him, ‘Could you do that, sitting down?’ and he goes, ‘It’s your world.’ [audience laughs]

“Two cameras down on him and Yancey [Red Corn], the whole thing’s improvised. And it’s a beauty because by the end of it he says this great line, ‘We never asked for the great life, we just asked for life.’”

Standing Bear was asked what he wanted the audience to take away from the film.

“I think David Grann said it best. He said to us when he learned, the question was ‘not who was complicit, it’s who wasn’t.’ That stuck with me. Also, when Marty at one of our meetings, I saw all of these stories and how was he going to make sense of it, and I asked him and he said ‘I’m going to tell this story on two levels,” he said. “But, both of them are about trust and betrayal. I’m going to tell the story of the trust the Osage had with everyone and the betrayal of that trust. And the trust that Mollie had in Ernest and the betrayal of that trust.

“And that’s when I realized I was sitting next to a genius.”

Mollie Burkhart as a young woman. Courtesy Photo/Oklahoma Historical Society

Gladstone said her inspiration and methodology for staying in character for her role as Mollie Burkhart, among other things, was a photo of Mollie when she was young. She kept the photo clipped to the front of her script. It’s from page 9 of the book, the page Gladstone always signs when giving her autograph.

“It’s a picture of her as a young woman before all of this, before Ernest, when she still had all of her sisters, still had her mother,” Gladstone said. “It’s a young Mollie, and there’s nobody living now that knew her so I was building a real person without having any videos of her, without knowing what her voice sounded like. I had pictures and a granddaughter, Margie, who I suspected when I met her that Grann drew Mollie from as well.

“Margie is just such a composed and beautiful, patient, funny, smart woman,” Gladstone said. “A lot of the first date scene between the two of them [Mollie and Ernest], the kind of head tilts and side eyes and stuff came from the way that Margie was interacting in our first meetings with Leo right next to me, so I kind of borrowed from her. But also, these photos that I had of Mollie, you really can, when you’re looking at a face like hers … in this photo where she’s holding very still for a tintype, was where she started and I had this photo on the end that was colorized and it’s her as an older woman when she passed away. I say ‘older’ but she passed away at 50, she was young.

“But, she’s sitting there just really self-possessed, she looks victorious, she looks strong, she looks like she won. And she’s looking slightly off-camera with this little smile on her face, the same one that Margie wears and she just looks at peace. If you look at this photo, I drew so much strength from that because that’s where I’m getting to.”

Mollie Burkhart as an older woman. Mollie died at the age of 50. Courtesy Photo/Margie Burkhart

She said Marianne Bower, Scorsese’s archivist and producer on the film, gave her something, that “gifted me with this knowledge” that wasn’t in the narrative of the film that she had dug up in her research. Mollie Burkhart, after the trial, after Ernest was in prison, went back and sued Ernest for the mismanagement of her funds while he was her guardian.

“I mean, there’s no way to reclaim everything that was taken from her. But you think about everything that happened to her and to have the tenacity and the fortitude to sue Ernest for his mismanagement of her money while he was her guardian and she got back like $14,000, in those dollars from those days back from him. She also went after Pitts Beatty, her own guardian when Ernest was not her guardian,” Gladstone said. “Before she passed away her incompetence status, she was declared competent. She didn’t pass away an incompetent Osage, she had full charge of her finances.

“She remarried, became a stepmom to her husband’s kids and kind of like the eulogy of the film, it’s very very much like when you visit her. I’ve paid my respects to her several times in Grayhorse and what’s on her headstone, she’s remembered for being loving. Being a great mother, being a great wife.”


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Shannon Shaw Duty
Shannon Shaw Duty

Title: Editor


Twitter: @dutyshaw

Topic Expertise: Columnist, Culture, Community

Languages spoken: English, Osage (intermediate), Spanish (beginner)

Shannon Shaw Duty, Osage from the Grayhorse District, is the editor of the award-winning Osage News, the official independent media of the Osage Nation. She is a graduate of the University of Oklahoma with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism and a master’s degree in Legal Studies with an emphasis in Indigenous Peoples Law. She currently sits on the Freedom of Information Committee for the Society of Professional Journalists. She has served as a board member for LION Publishers, as Vice President for the Pawhuska Public Schools Board of Education, on the Board of Directors for the Native American Journalists Association (now Indigenous Journalists Association) and served as a board member and Chairwoman for the Pawhuska Johnson O’Malley Parent Committee. She is a Chips Quinn Scholar, a former instructor for the Freedom Forum’s Native American Journalism Career Conference and the Freedom Forum’s American Indian Journalism Institute. She is a former reporter for The Santa Fe New Mexican. She is a 2012 recipient of the Native American 40 Under 40 from the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development. In 2014 she helped lead the Osage News to receive NAJA's Elias Boudinot Free Press Award. The Osage News won Best Newspaper from the SPJ-Oklahoma Chapter in their division 2018-2022. Her award-winning work has been published in Indian Country Today, The Washington Post, the Center for Public Integrity, NPR, the Associated Press, Tulsa World and others. She currently resides in Pawhuska, Okla., with her husband and together they share six children, two dogs and two cats.

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