Killers of the Flower Moon, distributed by Paramount Pictures, is in cinemas now
Killers of the Flower Moon, distributed by Paramount Pictures, is in cinemas now

A film about the exploitation of the Osage people in 1920s USA

Pete McNally, Hereford and Worcester Socialist Party

Killers of the Flower Moon is based on the book ‘The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI’ by David Grann.

The Osage Native American tribe had been moved several times but by World War One had been on a reservation settled in Oklahoma. The film shows how the US government made payments to the tribe members for oil discovered on their land, only some of whom were able to access this money, deemed ‘competent’. Others deemed ‘incompetent’ could only access funds via a court-appointed guardian – opening the door to exploitation.

Ernest, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, returns from World War One to live with his uncle, William Hale, played by Robert De Niro.

William Hale is an influential figure who will go to any lengths to work out a way to get his hands on these funds and anything else that will ease his life. He is adept at getting pieces of paper signed. His nephew Ernest turning up injured physically and probably mentally from the war is a bonus for him to exploit. 

The Osage are now rich, they can follow in the footsteps of white people buying new homes, new clothes and new cars. One scene shows an Osage person buying a new car while the salesman explains that if anything goes wrong he can simply bring it back and just buy another one.

We see occasions where the Osage tribal council meets to discuss the problems they face. Appeals for help to various bodies are made without results. The tribal structure gives way on all important matters to the pressures of the modern world.

Ernest is cajoled by his uncle into a relationship with Mollie, an Osage, played by Lily Gladstone, who is due a large inheritance. They marry and have children. Mollie suffers from diabetes and insulin is now available but the local doctors – who have both hands in most scams – are able to manipulate Ernest to add ‘something’ to the insulin doses which worsens Mollie’s condition and contributes to her death.

William Hale thinks he can escape detection for his crimes because the Osage land is theirs and the laws of the federal government do not apply. The federal government disagrees and, after a spate of killings, this draws their attention at last, and the newly formed FBI arrives. William and Ernest are ultimately arrested and both jailed. But from 1921 to 1925 an estimated 60 Osage were killed, and most murders were not solved.

The story is worth telling and is well told but, for me, I recommend you save your money and read the book, as I intend to do.