Killers of the Flower Moon Studies

This Great Idea was inspired by varying responses to the movie Killers of the Flower Moon. The Great Idea is to read a variety of Indigenous responses together, share the ELCA’s Truth & Healing Study Guide, discuss, and discern together what action God is calling from your community in response to how you feel and what you discover. Additional deep dive resources are listed at the conclusion of this post.

The introduction to the ELCA’s Killers of the Flower Moon: Movie Discussion Guide (1) reads:

“Some of us know the tragic history of the Osage Nation and Osage People… Killers of the Flower Moon, directed by Martin Scorsese, is set in 1920s Oklahoma. It depicts the serial murder of members of the oil-wealthy Osage Nation, a string of brutal crimes that came to be known as the Reign of Terror… You are encouraged to support this moment in Indigenous and cinematic history!” (2)

This encouragement comes from the ELCA’s Truth and Healing Movement (3), which was established to, ‘provide opportunities to learn the true history and current realities of Indigenous people. It is these truths, truths that have been ignored by most for hundreds of years, that will bring healing for both Indigenous people and non-Indigenous people’.

Yet, some Indigenous people are calling out disparities in the truth-telling of Scorsese’ movie vis a vis the book by the same name. Authored by David Grann, a highly awarded male journalist and author (but not a Native American), the original book is told from the perspective of Mollie Burkhart, the Osage woman whose family and neighbors are being systematically murdered.

Journalist Frank Hooper (Tlingit) writes, ‘As compelling and beautiful as the film is, it tends to downplay the experience of Mollie, the story’s original protagonist, and gives most of its screen time to its well-paid Hollywood star, DiCaprio. This dilutes its connection to an important current-day problem in Native communities. The story is—and should be represented as—a textbook example of what the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women movement is fighting against.’ (4) (5)

Osage journalist Ruby Hansen Murray writes, ‘It feels disloyal to my Osage friends who poured themselves into this project, to suggest it could be different and better. Osages didn’t fail the project, Hollywood failed us.’ (6)

Actress and activist Devery Jacobs (Mohawk) wrote, ‘I don’t feel that these very real people were shown honor or dignity in the horrific portrayal of their deaths… Contrarily, I believe that by showing more murdered Native women on screen, it normalizes the violence committed against us and further dehumanizes our people.’ (7)

Fortunately, the ELCA’s Movie Study Guide includes at least one question about Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women. It also encourages reflection on Indian Boarding Schools, the Doctrine of Discovery, and implicitly wonders about who controls Indigenous narratives.

Watch the movie as a group outing.

Invite non-member neighbors to join in the viewing and the discussion.

Encourage intergenerational engagement by reading the original book, for adults, and Killers of the Flower Moon: Adapted for Young Reader (Penguin Random House).

Expand the discussion, learning, and growing with deeper dives, including through these shorter-read resources:

  1. Access the ELCA’s Truth & Healing Movement’s movie guide here.
  2. Learn more about the Reign of Terror here.
  3. Learn about the ELCA’s Truth & Healing Movement and discover additional resources from them here.
  4. See Hooper’s full Nov. 13, 2023, Yes! Magazine article here.
  5. Learn more about the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Movement here; learn more about the crisis here.
  6. See Hansen Murray’s full Nov. 2, 2023, Osage News article here.
  7. See Jason P. Frank’s Oct. 25, 2023, Vulture article, What Indigenous Artists Are Saying about Killers of the Flower Moon.

As the Movie Study Guide asks at its conclusion: ‘What do you want to learn more about? What do you feel called to do?’