‘Flower Moon’ shows the importance of real, complete Oklahoma history

Photo of Lily Gladstone and Leonardo DiCaprio as Mollie Burkhart and Ernest Burkhart (Provided/Associated Press).

Martin Scorsese’s “Killers of the Flower Moon,” a film about the murders in the Osage Nation and the birth of the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) during the early 20th century, released October 20, and highlights key events in Oklahoma’s history that are often forgotten or obscured.

Scorsese’s three-and-a-half hour epic, which was mostly filmed in Oklahoma, has already been screened to a large audience, raking in $9.4 million on opening, and having a spot on many theaters IMAX screens for the rest of the month.

The film features many familiar faces, such as Leonardo DiCaprio as Ernest Burkhart, as well as Robert De Niro as William Hale, neither of which are strangers to Scorsese’s films. Alongside DiCaprio and De Niro, the film also stars Lily Gladstone as Mollie Burkhart, and many other Native American actors playing the characters in the Osage Nation. Scorsese also went to great lengths to ensure the historical accuracy of the film, which included working with the Oklahoma Osage Nation and having many cultural advisors on set to ensure that the film was being respectful to those harmed during the time of Oklahoma’s founding.

While this was important for Scorsese on set, it’s also an important plot-point of the film. Erasure through assimilation. Assimilation is the process of incorporating one group into another, which often leads to an erasure of culture, tradition and people. This is what happened to many of the Native Americans, especially during the time of the Osage murders.

At the beginning of the 20th century, Oklahoma was just becoming a state, and while it was still mostly Native land, it didn’t take long for that land to be taken away. Leaving little pockets of space for the Native people. The Osage landed in what is now known as Osage County, in between Tulsa and Ponca City. During the early 20th century, the Osage discovered oil on the land, which would ultimately lead to them becoming rich and prosperous.

But many greedy settlers, referred to in the film as “coyotes,” came into the town looking to take the riches for themselves. This is what would lead to the historic murders that happened in the Osage Nation. The Osage murders were not the only events that happened in post-WWI Oklahoma. During 1921, the Tulsa Race Massacre occurred.

The Tulsa Race Massacre took place in 1921 and saw the destruction of what was known as “Black Wall Street.” This was a wealthy section of the Black community during the early 20th century, and led to many advancements within the community and the fight for civil rights, but was burned down and destroyed after a group of white people accused a 19-year-old Black man named Dick Rowland of assaulting a 17-year-old white woman named Sarah Page. The events that transpired between Rowland and Page have never been confirmed, but the accusation alone was enough for the entire community to be destroyed.

This is an important plot point of the film, as Scorsese highlights it during the March 10, 1923 bombing of Bill and Rita Smith’s home. During the scene after the explosion, you can hear many people in the background yelling out, “This is just like Tulsa,” showing the fear the Osage felt that the events that transpired in Tulsa were going to happen to them, too. This event is what would ultimately lead to federal authorities opening an investigation.

Scorsese chooses these moments and events very carefully with his film, in order to demonstrate the complex history of Oklahoma and just how our state came to be. Because of his care for this rich history “Killers of the Flower Moon” is elevated to another level that another director would be unlikely to achieve.

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