'Killers of the Flower Moon' premieres at Cannes to 9 minute standing ovation Martin Scorsese's film Killers of the Flower Moon chronicles a series of murders targeting Osage people in the 1920s. Scorsese shot on location in Oklahoma and consulted closely with Osage citizens.

'Of course we should be here': 'Flower Moon' receives a 9-minute ovation at Cannes

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/1177713781/1177773745" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


A story about one of the darkest chapters in Native American history is being given a global platform. "Killers Of The Flower Moon" is a book by David Grann about a series of brutal murders that took place in Oklahoma in the 1920s, targeting Osage people for their money. Now it's become a film by Martin Scorsese. It premiered at the Cannes Film Festival this week, and those who worked on the movie hope it can mark a turning point for how Native people are treated on screen. Allison Herrera from member station KOSU reports from Cannes.



ALLISON HERRERA, BYLINE: It's not every day that you see Indigenous people - Osage people - own the red carpet at the Cannes International Film Festival, some wearing clothes that highlight Indigenous fashion designers and others wearing traditional dress. While rock music blared over the French emcee, the Osage delegation who attended were captured by a sea of cameras. Dr. Moira Red Corn, who was an extra in the film, wore a traditional Osage blanket made by her mother. She said the attention didn't faze her.

MOIRA RED CORN: I guess it didn't feel weird to me, you know? It felt, like, natural - like, oh, of course we should be here.

HERRERA: But the large Indigenous cast that makes up "Killers Of The Flower Moon" is rare. It's even more unusual to see them take over a space historically dominated by white actors. And when the film screening ended, it received a nine-minute standing ovation.

M RED CORN: The first probably 30 minutes, I was like, oh, there's so-and-so. Oh, there's so-and-so. Oh, there's my cousin. There's da-da-da (ph). After that died down a little bit and they went to more of this pace of the characters and the murders, it was haunting. But it wasn't gratuitous.

HERRERA: The story is driven by the portrayals of Mollie and Ernest Burkhart. Mollie's Osage and has oil wealth. In order to obtain that wealth, Ernest slowly poisons her at the behest of his uncle, a white Texas cattleman who masterminded many of the murders. Osage citizens say this story deserves attention.

YANCEY RED CORN: It was hard to watch. I mean, it was hard to watch because, you know, my great grandfather was poisoned, and my dad never knew him.

HERRERA: That's Yancey Red Corn, Moira's brother. In the movie, he plays the Osage Principal Chief Bonnicastle, who led the tribal nation in the early 1920s. He was there because he liked the way the story was told.

Y RED CORN: I was really impressed how Marty and his crew really got into the culture and really asked the right people to - starting off with the chief - and then asking the right people to be involved.

HERRERA: Martin Scorsese did get people involved. The film had Osage art directors, cinematographers, makeup artists. He met with Osage citizens in the Gray Horse community near Fairfax, Okla., where many of the murders took place. Based on that meeting, he changed the story from a movie about the birth of the FBI to one that centered on the trust Osage citizens placed on their white neighbors and the federal government and the betrayal of that trust. Here's Scorsese.


MARTIN SCORSESE: I learned about the people themselves and the stories, and they're all related to each other. And there's still relations, and there's still issues, and - so-and-so was in love. No, he wasn't. Yes, she was. No, it - and it goes on like that. And I said, well, there's the story.

HERRERA: He and his producer worked with the Osage language department to be accurate. Indeed, Lily Gladstone, Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro all speak Osage in the movie. Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear said it was impressive to hear.


GEOFFREY STANDING BEAR: We get our own conceptions - preconceptions about what is involved and maybe think that, oh well, Bob De Niro just wakes up, and naturally it's - everything comes right out.


STANDING BEAR: But these are very hardworking people.

HERRERA: Cara Jade Myers plays Anna Brown.

CARA JADE MYERS: I've been on sets before, and you walk in there, and you're the only Native. And then, literally, you're the cultural consultant. You're, like, the fact-checker. You know, they expect you to know everything.

TATANKA MEANS: We're always, you know, a little hesitant, right?

HERRERA: Actor Tatanka Means plays the Native FBI agent John Wren. He says the experience working on this film was different.

MEANS: Martin Scorsese, I feel like, laid down new foundation here that I hope other filmmakers take into consideration and I hope other studios take into consideration and writers - is go to the community. Go to the people, speak with them, and, you know, work with them. That's big.

HERRERA: For the Osage, the movie is big. But more importantly, they want people to know they're not relics. As the film comes out this fall, the tribal nation will have its own message - we are Wah-Zha-Zhi always. They're still here, and they are thriving. For NPR News, I'm Allison Herrera in Cannes, France.

Copyright © 2023 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.