Osage Language Consultant Says ‘Killers of The Flower Moon’ Was Not Made for ‘Osage Audience’
Martin Scorsese’s new film “Killers of The Flower Moon” is out in the world, highlighting the atrocious Osage Nation murders committed in Oklahoma in the 1920s. And while many are hailing the film a success, the Osage language consultant who worked on it, Christopher Côté, recently shared his complex, “strong opinions” after watching it.
While Côté made waves for saying at the movie’s premiere, “This film was not made for an Osage audience,” he explained told mitú. “People gravitated to different parts of what I said.”
As explained by TIME, “Killers of The Flower Moon” tells the true story of how a white war veteran and his uncle conspired the murders of Osage Nation members for money. In 1894, the Osage had come upon millions of dollars after discovering large oil reserves under their land.
This made the tribe some of the wealthiest people in the world. As per the New York Times, they had mansions, chauffeurs, and even a Tiffany’s counter.
The Osage earned the equivalent of $540 million in today’s dollars in just one year. However, the U.S. government eventually intervened. In fact, it coordinated a guardianship system that meant many Osage members no longer had control of their own money.
Soon after, veteran Ernest Burkhart and his uncle William K. Hale came up with the plan for Burkhart to marry Osage woman Mollie Kyle. Throughout the marriage, Burkhart and Hale set off on a “Reign of Terror” against Kyle’s loved ones. By the mid-1920s, Burkhart, Hale, and others had carried out the murders of over 20 Osage members.
Still, the movie startlingly portrays Burkhart and Kyle’s “love story” through tragedy. Some have taken issue with this, including Côté. As the consultant put it at the premiere, “When somebody conspires to murder your entire family, that’s not love.”
Côté stands by his statement, telling mitú, “I still think what [I] said is true, the film follows Ernest.”
“Although, Osages are present throughout the film because Scorsese worked with my people,” he added. “I’m proud to have worked on a project this large. If you haven’t seen the film, watch it, if you can.”
Osage language consultant Christopher Côté wanted the movie “to be from the perspective of Mollie”
At the movie’s Los Angeles premiere, Côté shared his thoughts on the movie’s point of view, and on Osage representation.
“[I was] nervous about the release of the film,” Côté admitted to The Hollywood Reporter. “As an Osage, I really wanted this to be from the perspective of Mollie and what her family experienced.” As one X user agreed, “[Many] share a wish that the Osage woman in the new movie was the main character, rather than the white man.”
However, the language consultant said “it would take an Osage” to nail that perspective. He then commended director Scorsese for his attention to Osage representation. “Martin Scorsese, not being Osage, I think he did a great job representing our people.”
Scorsese had a “touchstone” meeting with several Osage members in 2019, which resulted in major changes to the movie’s script. As per The Guardian, the director involved several Osage members in the making of the film. Including language, wardrobe consultants, and extras, as well as team members for the movie’s cinematographers and set design.
“Well, we are complicit. But we are. We simply are,” Scorsese told BFI while discussing his new film. “We’re all the killers.” The director also told The Guardian, “I was not going to make a picture in which a few Osage would just be victims in the background.”
“We were approaching the project in a very different spirit,” he said.
Still, as Côté put it, he still sees issues with the film seemingly taking on Burkhart’s point of view. “This history is being told almost from the perspective of Ernest Burkhart, and they kind of give him this conscience and kind of depict that there’s love.”
“But when somebody conspires to murder your entire family, that’s not love. That’s not love, that’s just beyond abuse,” the Osage member asserted. Scorsese has said that Burkhart and Kyle’s granddaughter, Margie Burkhart, once advised him, “We have to remember that Ernest loved Mollie, and Mollie loved Ernest.”
Still, Côté said the film’s final question is, “How long will you be complacent with racism?”
He added, “This is an opportunity for them to ask themselves this question of morality.”
This is how some Osage members are reacting to the movie so far
Fellow “Killers of the Flower Moon” Osage language specialist, Janis Carpenter, added to The Hollywood Reporter, “There are some things [in the film] that were pretty hard to take.”
Still, she said it was “wonderful,” to see “so many of our tribal people that are in the movie.”
Osage wardrobe and costume consultant, Julie O’Keefe, also told the outlet: “It was overwhelming, quite frankly, to see it for the first time.”
Chief of the Osage Nation, Geoffrey Standing Bear, told The Guardian after watching the film: “This movie’s brought out such things, and that’s painful. So yeah, this story is something for all of us to learn from.”
“It was the time of our grandparents,” he added. “We all knew about it, but it wasn’t until the last 20 years that we started really talking about it more openly.”
Chief Standing Bear said at Cannes Film Festival after watching the movie: “I can say on behalf of the Osage, Scorsese and his team have restored trust and we know that trust will not be betrayed.”
Meanwhile, former Osage Nation Chief Jim Gray described his excitement around the movie to CNN. “The clothing, the designs, the fabrics, the way the Osage woman wore her blanket. Little things that most everyone is going to just ignore.”
“But if you’re an Osage sitting in the audience, you’re gonna catch things. A lot of little things,” he said.
Over on X, an Osage member shared their thoughts after watching the movie, saying they first had “conflicting thoughts” after hearing “an outsider” would tell their story.
Still, they wrote, “I spoke with [former Osage Nation Chief Jim Gray]… he told me that he’s never seen a film immerse itself in a culture like this one did with ours.”
“I wholeheartedly agree,” the X user wrote. Even then, they noted their hope for an Osage to one day direct a film on the Reign of Terror from a more personal perspective, “as more and more Indigenous filmmakers are given opportunities.”
“It’s a part of American history which most don’t know about because it’s been swept under the rug like 99% of all Native history has,” another Osage member wrote on X. “And finally it’s coming to light.”
As Gray put it on X, “The Osage people are not a monolith.” By this, he pointed at how members will of course have different “opinions, ideas and perspectives” on the movie:
Notice any corrections needed? Please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org