NEW YORK – Osage Nation representation made its historic red carpet appearance here in Lincoln Center where many tribal members and their families attended the “Killers of the Flower Moon” premiere on Sept. 27 along with Director Martin Scorsese and film crew members.
Scores of Osages, including Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear and others who worked as behind-the-scenes consultants and crew members, came to the New York premiere. In 2021, film crews brought their cameras, heavy equipment, props, wardrobe and other talents to Oklahoma and transformed communities, including Pawhuska and Fairfax, into circa-1920s Osage County to tell the Reign of Terror story featured in the David Grann-authored book by the same name.
The Apple Original Films film narrative reads: “At the turn of the 20th century, oil brought a fortune to the Osage Nation, who became some of the richest people in the world overnight. The wealth of (the Osage people) immediately attracted white interlopers, who manipulated, extorted and stole as much Osage money as they could before resorting to murder. Based on a true story and told through the improbable romance of Ernest Burkhart (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Mollie Kyle (Lily Gladstone).”
Planning and edits to the film screenplay took place as consulting efforts with the Nation resulted in viewers seeing the Osage language, culture, customs and clothing making appearances throughout the nearly 3.5-hour film. Several Osages, who served as consultants, film crew members, actors and background extras contributed their talents and knowledge to the film as part of bringing accuracy and representation to the big screen.
“We knew it was going to happen, but we didn’t know it was going to happen to the extent that it did and it is so wonderful to see the language and the culture,” Standing Bear said. “I’m so grateful for all the Osages who worked together to ensure we advised the movie carefully; we advised the movie in a way that was respectful and they took it upon themselves to translate that into this film.”
With many Osages dressed with Pendleton blankets, shawls, traditional women’s clothing, Indigenous-designed clothing and jewelry accents, joined hundreds of other premiere attendees including some New York-based actors and entertainment officials for the 6 p.m. screening in the Alice Tully Hall.
Amid the ongoing SAG-AFTRA actors strike, the film’s primary actors including DiCaprio, Robert DeNiro, Gladstone, Jesse Plemmons and others did not attend the New York premiere. Neither did other Indigenous actors in the film including Tantoo Cardinal, Cara Jade Myers, Jillian Dion, Janae Collins, William Belleau and Tatanka Means.
The show went on as planned with other notables attending including Grann, actors Matthew Broderick, Carol Kane, British singer Natasha Beddingfield, TV personality Gayle King, musician Steven Van Zandt, actor Michael Imperioli, Saturday Night Live creator and producer Lorne Michaels, filmmaker John Waters, as well as Apple and Paramount film officials.
In brief remarks before the film started, Scorsese thanked the crew, as well as the Nation, including “all of them (who) contributed in front of the camera, in pre-production and post-production, all of our consultants, including the late John Williams, Chad Renfro and Chief Standing Bear.”
In a quip and reference to the actors’ strike situation, Scorsese added: “Leo DiCaprio and Bob DeNiro and Lily Gladstone and Jesse Plemmons say ‘hello,’” which prompted laughter and applause from the audience.
In working with Osages who contributed to the production, Scorsese said “We all made the film together, that’s what’s so interesting … Before we do this, we have to go to the Osage and deal with who they are and who they were at that time, what they are now and all of that to make sure we get not just the authenticity, but the truth of their emotional being.”
Production Designer Jack Fisk said, “It was an exciting thing to work with the Osage Nation to tell their story, and Marty wanted to tell this as honestly as possible and I think we strived for research, we got a lot of help from the Osage community and it’s kind of an honor they trust all these white men to come in and tell their story because they’ve been hurt by them for 100 years … I made it important to have it right.”
Osage artist Addie Roanhorse served as a film consultant and crew member, said she is excited about the release because of “the fact that we can actually share it with everybody, it took so long to make it and get to this point. It’s a story that hasn’t been told in 100 years, it was never told, and especially in the era we’re in right now, it’s needed, we need to talk about these things.”
Julie O’Keefe worked as an Osage clothing consultant for the film and applauded the working relationship Scorsese had with the Nation and its community members and resources. “I’m really grateful that our story is being told and it’s a history that no one has really ever talked about except amongst ourselves and I really think it’s going to make a mark on Hollywood to have a bar of authenticity, which is how we were truly represented and it was the bar that Martin Scorsese set for everyone,” she said.
Chad Renfro, who has his own interior design business, served as an ambassador to the film for the Nation and became a consulting producer as well. “It was one of my main missions to have the culture and the language be a big part of the film … Our Osage Nation has spent so much time and money reviving our language and to see it spoken on film, even conversationally amongst some of the actors, it’s unbelievable really.”
Osage Congresswoman Brandy Lemon served as a community consultant for the film serving in a liaison role. “The production team, at times, if they had a question they would send it my way and I would utilize people from the Grayhorse community to help answer the questions they may have, I didn’t just answer it directly on my own … Some of those questions that they asked, nobody had an answer for because all the people, of course, are gone from that time and so they would have to do the best they could based on some of the history they had and researched through the book and other research they also did.”
Osage language instructor Christopher Cotê helped with translations for the script and also helped teach lines to actors including Gladstone and DeNiro. Of the experience, Cotê said “there were moments of excitement and there were moments of pure terror. I wanted to do my best, to do our best to represent our language that’s going to be in this film because it’s going to be there forever, and I never thought I would experience anything like this and so I’m really excited that I got to do that and help make this happen.”
Oliver “OJ” Littlecook Jr. worked with the late musician Robbie Robertson as a traditional music consultant and also had some background extra scenes, which gave him a new perspective on how films are made. “As far as an Osage member, the story being put out, I think is very good … A lot of people not only here in the United States, but across the world are going to be enlightened on the story, not only of the Osage, but it opens the doorway for all Indigenous people of all the things that took place because there’s a lot of people that live right here in our home states that don’t even know any of these stories.”
Alaina “Lainie” Maker worked on the crew and focused on wardrobe and costumes and “now that I’m seeing everything on the big screen, I just think the work was so intense and it’s such a big payoff because everything looks so beautiful … Everything was brought to life in such a good way and it’s because everything was so blessed and prayed over.”
After seeing the movie, Maker said “It really makes me feel empowered, whenever I watch it and see the reactions of everyone in the crowd, it just makes me feel like people are paying attention to real history, what really happened to people, they’re going to talk about it after the film.”
Osage Nation Princess Lawren “Lulu” Goodfox and former Princess Gianna “Gigi” Sieke both attended the premiere, as well as the Tulsa advanced screening in July. “I hope that despite all the sadness and difficulties, that (audiences) see that we’re still here and we’re not relics,” Goodfox said.
Sieke said “I thought the movie was amazing, it portrayed our culture very well. I remember before the film even started and Scorsese (met) with the Grayhorse people and we all congregated and we talked about what we want in the movie, how we want to be portrayed and they successfully did that, and I appreciated the language use in the movie.”
Osage tribal member Mason Whitehorn Powell, who now lives in New York and attends law school and is a freelance journalist, attended the premiere screening as well as a prior private screening said, “The word that comes to mind is ‘overwhelmed.’ It’s beautiful to see Osage representation at this level and familiarity in a strange way. Because growing up in Osage County, these images are engrained into my heart and engrained into my mind and seeing that on the big screen is surreal, overwhelming.”
For the audiences who will see the film, Powell said: “I just want people to know the story, I want people to know about the Osage Nation and maybe understand that this isn’t an old story, we’re still there and there’s still ongoing issues, people are still trying to preserve our land and culture and I think that we’ve got things locked down, but it would be nice just for people to understand that we’re still there and we’re still strong and we’re still going through things today and I would say our legacy is positive.”
Osage singer Scott George helped compose the final song used in a dance scene featured in the film, which he collaborated with brothers Vann Bighorse (ON Secretary of Language/Culture/Education) and Osage Minerals Councilman Kenneth Bighorse Jr. “All three of us worked together to come up with a song we could use, we looked at our traditional music and felt like it wasn’t appropriate to put those songs in there, so we decided to make our own. We worked on it a couple of months, over the phone riding back and forth to work, talking to each other, we came up with two songs, I composed one. Vann composed one, we sent them to (Scorsese) and let him choose which one he wanted.” Of the chosen song, George said “it’s talking about our people, asking our people to stand up. We know that God has gotten us this far and it’s acknowledging that, it’s saying Wahzhazhe Ni-ka-zhi: stand up … the meaning is we’re thankful that we’re here and we’ve gone this far.”
To view more photos from the New York premiere of “Killers of the Flower Moon,” visit the Osage News Flickr page at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/osagenews/albums/72177720311554749/with/53220096541/