Killers of the Flower Moon (in theaters Oct. 20) by the Oscar-winning director Martin Scorsese, 80, is one of the most anticipated movies of the year. It’s a lavish, fascinating historical crime thriller about racism, greed, black gold and murder set in the prosperous Native American enclave of Osage County, Oklahoma, in the 1920s. The film plays a little fast and loose with a few of the facts, casting Oscar winner Leonardo DiCaprio, 48, as the much younger suitor-turned-husband Ernest Burkhart. In tandem with his uncle, Burkhart preys upon his native wife’s family in order to inherit their oil rights and untold wealth. The results are brutal — and for the most part, based on fact.
Here’s some historical background to help navigate the horrific crime against the Osage Nation, which at one time contained the world’s richest citizens per capita.
Is this a real story?
Yes. In the early 1920s, a series of brutal murders, many unsolved, were committed in Osage County in what was known as the “Reign of Terror.” The victims were wealthy Osage tribe members who had been pushed off their original tribal lands, and pushed again, until they were cornered on a relatively small piece of rocky land — that turned out to conceal an oil field of epic proportions. The Osage had wisely negotiated for the oil and mineral rights, but that didn’t mean that their white neighbors wouldn’t go to extreme lengths — including murder — to claim the bounty.
Is the movie based on a novel?
No, it’s based on American journalist David Grann’s 2017 true crime bestseller Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI. It is a meticulously researched National Book Award nonfiction finalist. The page-turner painstakingly identifies the central victims and predators, the multiple crimes and cover-ups, the political underpinnings and the community in which they occurred. It also delves deeply into the criminal investigation and the formative years of the agency that would become the FBI — a lesser-developed thread of the movie.
What is a Flower Moon?
In Osage County, early spring saw the arrival of millions of tiny multicolored wildflowers that, according to Osage author John Joseph Mathews, resembled “confetti.” In May, larger plants like black-eyed Susans overwhelmed and suffocated the tiny flowers, burying them underground. When this botanical slaughter occurred, the Osage people called it the season of the flower-killing moon. The Killers of the Flower Moon is a play on words.