Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Robert De Niro, and Lily Gladstone
Distributed by Paramount Pictures and Apple Original Films
Running time: 206 minutes
Rated R for violence, gory images, and language.
In the early 20th century, the Native American Osage tribe were, per capita, the richest group of people on Earth.1 Most tribes settled on reservations the government gave them to administer, but the Osage purchased the land for their reservation outright. When Congress stopped recognizing tribal administrations and began dividing reservations among individual tribal households, it allotted 160 acres to each and sold what was left to outside buyers. But the Osage, which legally owned their entire reservation, kept all of it, each household getting 657 acres.2
Only later did the Osage (and the government) become aware of the huge value of the oil deposits underneath those vast lands. The rising demand for oil, combined with the massive acreage the Osage owned, made them spectacularly wealthy. Unsurprisingly, this situation drew the attention of prospectors from all over the country, keen to get a share of the wealth. Some were legitimate entrepreneurs; others were frauds, robbers, and murderers. What followed was the Osage Reign of Terror: the murder of an estimated sixty men and women for the rights to extract oil from their lands. These murders are the subject of the new film Killers of the Flower Moon, based on David Grann’s 2017 book of the same name.
The film follows a white veteran, Ernest Burkhart (Leonardo DiCaprio), after he arrives in Fairfax, the main town on the Osage reservation. Burkhart is the nephew of William King Hale (Robert De Niro), an earlier white settler in the area who has become a dominant figure in the local community and has proclaimed himself “King of the Osage.” Hale is the reserve deputy sheriff, but otherwise the exact nature of his influence is not clear. (As a matter of historical fact, Hale held various political and business leadership positions and controlled the main bank in Fairfax.) Hale takes advantage of his positions of influence to orchestrate a criminal scheme to obtain the oil rights of various Osage landowners through theft and murder. . . .
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1 San Francisco Call, December 4, 1898.
2 Megan McCluskey, “How Killers of the Flower Moon Captures the True Story of the Osage Murders,” October 20, 2023, Time, https://time.com/6325586/killers-of-the-flower-moon-true-story.
3 Sam Yellowhorse Kesler et al., “Blood, Oil, and the Osage Nation: The Battle over Headrights,” NPR, March 24, 2023, https://www.npr.org/2023/03/23/1165619070/osage-headrights-killers-of-the-flower-moon-fletcher-lawsuit.