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How Osage people stepped in to be sure 'Killers of the Flower Moon' got things right


Until recently, Native representation in cinema and television has been abysmal. That is slowly changing. The new Martin Scorsese film, "Killers Of The Flower Moon," does not shy away from the harsh realities of the Osage murders it depicts, but it also does something else - it celebrates Osage culture. KOSU's Allison Herrera spoke with some of the people who worked on the movie on and off screen.

ALLISON HERRERA, BYLINE: There's a scene in the movie where Osage men and women are lined up outside the train station, getting their photo taken. You can see it in the film's trailer.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) When this money started coming, we should have known it came with something else.

HERRERA: They're on their way to Washington, D.C., to demand the federal government solve the murders taking place on their land. Osage citizen and lead wardrobe consultant Julie O'Keefe said the Osage delegation wore what she considered to be a power suit.

JULIE O'KEEFE: It was, you know, a group, 40 of them. And they come walking in with these blankets.

HERRERA: Broadcloth blankets with bright, hand-sewn ribbon work. The clothing has a specific message.

O'KEEFE: We're coming as equals. And we're coming in here to let you know that we're here to talk business with you.

HERRERA: When the film premiered at Cannes earlier this year, she and numerous other citizens of the Osage Nation wore that same power suit on the red carpet. Hiring O'Keefe was just one of the ways director Martin Scorsese made sure there was authenticity in the film, but Osage News editor Shannon Shaw Duty said it didn't start out that way.

SHANNON SHAW DUTY: I started hearing leaks about this script is - this is crazy. It's totally Hollywood. We're going to look like fools.

HERRERA: Members of the Gray Horse community within the Osage Nation asked for a meeting with Scorsese and his crew. That's when things changed. Scorsese made sure to shake everyone's hand, and...

DUTY: He intently listened to everyone stand up and speak their truth, their concerns. And then at the end, he gave some remarks to us and was just so down to earth.

HERRERA: Chad Renfro was the consulting producer and ambassador for the Osage Nation on the film. He and Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear put together a list of people for Apple Original Films to work with, language and cultural consultants, Osage cooks, and wardrobe consultant Julie O'Keefe.

CHAD RENFRO: The movie was going to be made with or without us. And instead of making it without us, they made it with us in such a huge, huge way.

HERRERA: Hundreds of Osages worked as extras and behind the scenes. O'Keefe tapped into Osage aunties and grandmas who have prized collections of ribbon work, finger weaving and blankets. She put an ad in the local paper asking Osage women to show off their heirlooms to the wardrobe crew.

O'KEEFE: And they're bringing out items from that 1920s period or earlier, like, some of the fabrics and everything and the textiles that were used and, you know, ribbon that colors - those colors don't exist anymore. And this is what took an epic movie like this and brought it down into a feeling of a community project.

HERRERA: Again, Chad Renfro.

RENFRO: Of course, we were suspicious and anxious about having this being told on such a large platform. But every step of the way, these people upheld our trust.

HERRERA: Trust is not always upheld when Hollywood tells stories about Indigenous communities. But Osages who worked on this film say their experience is a model for moving forward.

For NPR News in Tulsa, Okla., I'm Allison Herrera.

(SOUNDBITE OF POST MALONE SONG, "CHEMICAL") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Allison Herrera joined KOSU in November 2015, after serving as the editor of the award-winning online publication the Twin Cities Daily Planet.