Everything You Need to Know About 'Killers of the Flower Moon' Before Watching

Martin Scorsese, Robert De Niro, and Leonardo DiCaprio's highly anticipated epic hits theaters this weekend. Here are ten facts about 'Killers of the Flower Moon' you need to know.

Image via Complex/AppleTV+

Throughout his prolific career, Martin Scorsese has invited us into a kaleidoscope of worlds from Wall Street’s highest floors to the lowliest levels of the criminal underworld. Now the esteemed director is taking us all the way back to 1920s Oklahoma. 

Scorsese’s latest film, Killers of the Flower Moon, is a historical epic set to explore the real-life story of the Osage murders that took place in Oklahoma in the 1920s. Based on David Grann’s investigative novel, Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI, the film will unpack the conspiracy behind the massacres through the eyes of Ernest (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Mollie (Lily Gladstone) Burkhart. 

As we all flock to the cinemas to catch Scorsese and DiCaprio in action (again), here are 10 things you need to know about Killers of the Flower Moon before watching. 

1. Killers of the Flower Moon is based on a true story. 

Killers of the Flower Moon (2023)

Scorsese’s Western crime saga follows the true story of the Osage murders that ripped through Fairfax, Oklahoma, in the 1920s. The film navigates how the Osage’s serendipitous oil fortune triggered the malicious involvement of white Oklahomans who extorted the Osage’s wealth and partook in one of America’s largest conspiracy cover-ups of all time. The mysterious murders of the Osage garnered the attention of the FBI, who launched what was then their biggest homicide investigation. Killers of the Flower Moon is set to follow husband and wife Ernest and Mollie Burkhart, a white man and Osage woman respectively, as they grapple with the sudden murders around them. 

2. The Osage were some of the richest people in the world in the 1920s. 

Killers of the Flower Moon (2023)

While the land given to the Osage Nation in Oklahoma was first thought to be barren, the Osage surprisingly struck oil, making them some of the richest people (per capita) in the world. Their newfound wealth lent into a life of luxury with mansions, chauffeurs, and private schools becoming a new norm. But white Oklahomans viciously believed that the Osage didn’t know how to handle their wealth (nor that it should belong to them), prompting the establishment of guardian programs to overlook and monitor the Osage’s spending. 

These programs were hailed by white Oklahomans who rendered the most mundane purchases, like toothpaste, as actions that needed their approval. Matters only continued to escalate from there with some of the Osage’s richest members, like Mollie Burkhart’s family, being murdered in cold blood or through more covert practices like slow poisoning. The sudden, mysterious murders of the Osage naturally prompted several investigations to ensue, but a lot of these detectives were also then murdered themselves. 

As it became clear that what was happening to the Osage was a larger conspiracy, the FBI—which was still in its infancy during the 1920s and called the Bureau of Investigation (BOI) instead—got involved and unraveled a scheme that trickled all the way from Oklahoma to Washington, D.C. 

3. The Osage murders were orchestrated on an unprecedented scale. 

Killers of the Flower Moon (2023)

The majority of the Osage killings took place between 1921 and 1926, but it’s largely believed that the murders could have extended all the way back to the 1910s. When the FBI got involved there had already been 24 victims, but as the Osage continued to be murdered one by one, the number of victims increased to over 60. The FBI’s investigation found that the Osage massacres were orchestrated by a larger network including members of the guardian programs, several townspeople, and lawmen. They also found that William King Hale was one of the most notorious figureheads involved in the massacres. 

Hale was a well-connected Oklahoman who regularly rubbed shoulders with local politicians. He also dubbed himself as the “King of Osage” for acquiring most of his wealth through insurance fraud and unfair trade with the Osage people. Despite presenting himself as a “friend” to the Osage, Hale was actually ordering the murders of many of its members to amass an even greater wealth. 

Hale even went so far as to involve his own nephew, Ernest Burkhart, in his schemes and was found to be responsible for ordering the deaths of Ernest’s in-laws, Mollie’s family, which his nephew was aware of. It was also alleged that Hale and company attempted to kill Mollie by slowly poisoning her, which was ultimately unsuccessful after Mollie received the necessary hospice care. If Hale and Ernest were to have succeeded in killing Mollie, the last remaining member of her family, they would have inherited their entire oil rights—totalling an annual royalty of $500,000

After several trials, Hale was eventually convicted for his crimes and sent to prison in 1929. Although Hale was convicted, there were probably more conspirators involved in the massacre, and there are probably even more Osage victims that were never accounted for. The true scope of the Osage murders is still ambiguous to this day, and the massacre is widely referred to by the Osage people as the “Reign of Terror.” 

4. The Osage murders were largely overlooked until David Grann’s novel. 

Killers of the Flower Moon (2023)

Although the Osage murders were reported in local newspapers at the time, the massacre was largely overlooked in American history until David Grann published his nonfiction book Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI in 2017. 

The film is evidently based on Grann’s novel, which received largely positive reviews at the time of its release for shedding light on this otherwise eclipsed portion of American history. While Grann’s novel and Scorsese’s film will surely bring the Osage murders to many people’s radar, it’s an absolute shame that these massacres were overlooked for almost a century. 

5. Scorsese maintained regular contact with the Osage Nation while making the film. 

Throughout writing and making Killers of the Flower Moon, Scorsese made sure he had the trust of the Osage to see this project through. “The first thing we have to do is make sure it’s right by the Osage. Even if I made the film 40 years ago, I knew I still felt that way,” Scorsese said in a press conference. “That meant every possible aspect with every scene with the Osage had to be dealt with people from the Osage Nation.”

The Osage Nation’s current principal chief, Geoffrey Standing Bear, also shared that while he was initially concerned when he heard a film was being made about the massacre, he grew to trust Scorsese’s vision. “Early on, I asked Mr. Scorsese, how are you going to approach the story? And he said I’m going to tell a story about trust. Trust between Mollie and Ernest. Trust between the outside world and the Osage. And the betrayal of that trust, deep betrayal,” Standing Bear said during a press conference at Cannes

“My people suffered greatly, and to this very day those effects are with us. But I can say on behalf of the Osage, Martin Scorsese and his team have restored trust, and we know that trust will not be betrayed,” he continued. 

Scorsese and his team worked with the Osage Nation throughout the entirety of the film, from set decoration to hairstyling, to tell their story as authentically as possible. 

6. Killers of the Flower Moon has a star-studded cast. 

Scorsese’s bringing in all the star power for his latest flick, positing his longtime collaborators, Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro, in two of the film’s main roles. Killers of the Flower Moon also stars the incomparable Lily Gladstone, whose performance in the film is already being lauded as a shoo-in for the Best Actress win at the 96th Academy Awards. Besides the film’s big three, Killers of the Flower Moon also stars Jesse Plemons, John Lithgow, Tantoo Cardinal, and Academy Award winner Brendan Fraser. 

7. The cast will be playing real-life characters. 

Killers of the Flower Moon (2023)

The cast of Killers of the Flower Moon will obviously be playing real-life characters, but who’s playing who? Well, DiCaprio’s taking on the helm as Ernest Burkhart, Mollie’s husband who notoriously knew about the murder plots against her and her family. As for Mollie, Gladstone will be assuming the titular role alongside Tantoo Cardinal, Cara Jade Myers, JaNae Collins, and Jillian Dion as her family in the film. 

De Niro comes in as William King Hale himself, Ernest’s uncle and one of the top masterminds behind the Osage massacre, with Fraser starring as his attorney, W.S. Hamilton. Other important roles to note include Plemons’ performance as Tom White, the head BOI agent investigating the murders. We can expect top-notch, complex performances from the entire cast as they grapple with one of America’s grimmest true crime stories to date. 

8. We can expect Killers of the Flower Moon to stick to the facts. 

Killers of the Flower Moon (2023)

As someone who’s already seen Killers of the Flower Moon, the film sticks to the facts and offers a historical epic rather than a dramatized whodunnit. On the film’s direction, Scorsese shared, “The audience is ahead of us. It’s not a whodunnit. It’s a who didn’t do it.” The latter shines through in the film, which strays away from the white savior trope, and instead offers what feels more like a dramatic documentary than a true crime thriller. 

9. Killers of the Flower Moon boasts an impressive runtime. 

While Scorsese is no stranger to the three-hour epic, Killers of the Flower Moon poses one of the director’s longest runtimes to date: a whopping three hours and 26 minutes. 

To any naysayers, Scorsese had a few words to say in defense of the film’s runtime, sharing in an interview with The Hindustan Times, “People say it’s three hours, but come on. You can sit in front of the TV and watch something for five hours. Also, there are many people who watch theater for 3.5 hours. There are real actors on stage, you can’t get up and walk around. You give it that respect, give cinema some respect.” Truer words have never been spoken, but do have some snacks ready. 

10. Killers of the Flower Moon will have both a theatrical and streaming release. 

Killers of the Flower Moon (2023)

The drama epic is slated to premiere globally in theaters on Oct. 20. And while it’ll also exclusively stream on AppleTV later, no specific date has yet been set for its digital release. 

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