‘Killers of the Flower Moon’ tells an ugly American story

Martin Scorsese’s latest film is an indictment of insidious white violence and colonialism.
Arts & Culture

Killers of the Flower Moon

Directed by Martin Scorsese (Paramount, 2023)

An “Incompetent”: one who is not legally permitted to freely wield one’s own resources. Those are the words that Mollie (Lily Gladstone) must use to describe herself under the white man’s law. She is wealthy. She is smart. She has self-respect. But she is Osage, which makes her “less than” and a target, along with her entire nation.

Killers of the Flower Moon is based on a true story and the book of the same name. In 1897, oil was discovered on the Osage reservation, a supposed wasteland, and within a decade the Osage people soon became rich in a white man’s world. Similar to how white people would not tolerate Black wealth and power in Tulsa during this time period, they would not tolerate it in the Osage people either. The film takes place in the 1920s and unfolds as a quasi-gangster picture in which white people murder a large number of Osage people to steal their wealth. Greed and racism are the motives and justice is nearly impossible because of how deeply the perpetrators have intertwined themselves with their Osage targets and the larger white society. Even when a nascent FBI gets involved, it only brings a small measure of justice.

Killers is a story of how a motley group of European descendants created new identities through capitalism and violence to ensure the survival and flourishing of a select few. This is a story of America, writ large. This is a story of whiteness, writ large. As First Nations actress Devery Jacobs points out, this film can be hellish to watch in its unrelenting violence against and its constant dehumanization of the Osage people. But at the same time, Scorsese is fully committed to telling this story of insidious white violence from the perspective of the colonizers as an indictment of that very violence and evil.

Killers of the Flower Moon is now streaming on Apple TV+.


This article also appears in the March 2024 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 89, No. 3, page 38). Click here to subscribe to the magazine.

Image: Apple TV+

About the author

Kevin P. Considine

Kevin P. Considine is the director of the Robert J. Schreiter Institute for Precious Blood Spirituality and adjunct assistant professor in systematic theology at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago.

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