In a world where franchise films are driving the highest profits, film studios are further persuaded to release more content that feels like the same derivative material. However, one director has been very vocal about his concerns that the art form of film is navigating to theme-park-level entertainment, rather than pushing the art form forward.
World-renowned American-Italian director Martin Scorsese has been vocal about franchise films’ dominance and the influence it might have on the diversity of cinematic storytelling. His feelings for Marvel films are well known, as he expressed that they were not “cinema.” Despite his comments about Marvel being misconstrued in the media, he has expressed concern regarding how Marvel’s films limit opportunities for smaller-scale films to be seen.
Beyond his superb filmography and fame as a director, Scorsese is known for his love for film preservation and has been involved in attempts to repair and protect classic films. He’s also vocalized his support for indie directors such as indie studio A24’s Ari Aster and Ti West. Since the emergence of streaming services, great films that don’t have the same budget or scope as a franchise like Marvel are being pushed into streaming services instead of getting the theatrical releases they deserve.
As a step to prevent another underrepresented story from not getting its due attention, Scorsese has used his platform to tell the story of the Osage Nation in the United States and how they were victimized by American greed and colonization.
In his film Killers of the Flower Moon, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Robert De Niro, and Lily Gladstone, Scorsese, at the age of 80, is still as sharp as ever, if not sharper. Gladstone, who plays Mollie Burkhart, a member of the Osage Nation, has received a lot of attention for her performance.
The three-and-a-half-hour drama investigates a sequence of murders committed against wealthy Osage community members in Oklahoma during the 1920s. The murders were committed by people wanting to take advantage of the discovery of oil on Osage land, sparking a conspiracy and a major FBI investigation. Through Mollie Burkhart’s relationship with Ernest Burkhart (DiCaprio), the film dives into the historical period and exposes the colonization of the Osage community, motivated by greed.
Scorsese’s epic follows similar themes to his classic films Goodfellas and The Departed, such as greed, money, religion, and morality. However, Killers of the Flower Moon is different because, for the first time, Scorsese explores Indigenous issues in one of his major films. The movie attempts to accurately portray true events and discusses how the lives of Osage Nation members were taken from them as a result of white Americans’ imperialist actions. There have been very few depictions of Indigenous peoples in mainstream films that are well-informed by their cultures and haven’t portrayed them as villains, let alone by a major Hollywood director.
The Osage people are at the forefront of the story in this film. Scorsese stated that he worked closely with the Osage community to depict their people in the most authentic way possible on the big screen, in addition to hiring many members of the Osage nation whose family members were descendants of murder victims during that event. The Principal Chief of the Osage Nation Geoffrey Standing Bear offered resources that could assist in the film’s production.
An Osage language consultant named Christopher Côté told The Hollywood Reporter, “As an Osage, I really wanted this to be from the perspective of Mollie and what her family experienced.” He expressed concerns in the same vein regarding the storytelling of the film, specifically about how it focused on Ernest Burkhart’s perspective more than Mollie’s. However, Côté acknowledged that Scorsese “did a great job of representing our people.” I believe this is only the beginning of an optimistic future for Indigenous representation in expressing Indigenous tales with respect and honesty.
In my opinion, this is one of, if not, the best films of the year. While the acting is excellent, the narrative behind the film is what makes it worthwhile. Despite the lengthy runtime, viewers should not be turned off. The film’s timing is flawless and does not feel like three and a half hours. Scorsese outdid himself with this film; the story seeps into your consciousness and never leaves, forcing you to consider your own morality and the importance of living a life of integrity.
This film is an important step in the honest depiction of people who do not get the recognition or respect they deserve in conventional Hollywood narratives. Indigenous people across the Americas have been treated as if they do not exist when, in reality, they are foundational to the very land we live on. Scorsese uses his masterful way of storytelling to capture these historical truths and more and collaborates with great talent across the board, whether it be through the actors, production design, cinematography, or music.
If you want to watch a film that is unapologetic in its depiction of history through very compelling characters and beautiful production, then this film is for you. Killers of the Flower Moon definitely serves as a forward step for more theatre-released films to depict unrepresented stories with honesty and collaboration with the communities they represent.