New “Killers of the Flower Moon” Featurette Reveals How the Osage Language Deepened the Film
“We’re making a film about a historical event that is central to the Osage history,” Martin Scorsese says at the time of a new featurette about his upcoming film Killers of the Flower Moon. “So, of course, it’s important we spoke that language.”
We’re then whisked back to Oklahoma in the 1920s, where Ernest Burkhart (Leonardo DiCaprio), a white man new to the area, drives Mollie Kyle (Lily Gladstone), a member of the Osage Nation, who speaks Osage. Naturally, Ernest doesn’t understand a word—not yet, anyway. The Osage have recently come into great wealth when oil was discovered under their land, and Ernest is but one white face among many who have arrived in the aftermath of the discovery.
One of the key components for Scorsese to fully embed viewers in that time and place was to make sure the Osage language was woven throughout his film.
“This was the 1920s,” says Geoffrey Standing Bear, the current principal chief of the Osage Nation, “where people were still speaking the Osage language daily.”
“We wanted to be as authentic as possible,” says Leonardo DiCaprio, “and using the duality of both English and Osage was a symbol was the enmeshment of the two cultures.”
“Language and culture are inseparable,” says Christopher Cote, who was the film’s Osage language teacher and trainer. “You understand the way people operate through their language.”
Killers of the Flower Moon is centered primarily on two relationships: one, the growing love between Ernest and Mollie; the second between Ernest and his uncle, William Hale (Robert De Niro), one of the many white men who has come to Osage land to try and pry their oil wealth from the Osage Nation matter what it takes. The film was adapted from David Grann’s 2017 nonfiction book of the same name and covers the hideous crime spree that rocked the Osage Nation and eventually got the attention of the U.S. Government: a spat of brutal murders in which white usurpers began killing members of the Osage to get to their land holdings.
“Speaking Osage changed the way that I even moved as Mollie,” says Lily Gladstone. “I took months to get comfortable even with the different pace of speaking.”
Cote says that Robert De Niro was also very diligent about learning Osage. “We met every day getting the gestures right and the voice right,” Cote said.
“They got very comfortable with the words, the sounds, the rhythms,” Scorsese says. “In some cases, I didn’t put subtitles on the scenes because you know what’s going on. We’re deeply committed to staying true to the reality of the world in which this story unfolds.”
Check out the new vignette below. Killers of the Flower Moon comes to theaters on October 20:
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Featured image: JaNae Collins, Lily Gladstone, Cara Jade Myers and Jillian Dion in “Killers of the Flower Moon,” premiering in theaters around the world on October 20, 2023.