Warning: This article contains spoilers for Killers of the Flower Moon.
- “Killers of the Flower Moon” uncovers a violent period in American history when over 80 Osage were killed in Oklahoma for their oil wealth.
- The film’s title, derived from an old Osage story, symbolizes how the Osage were crowded out and controlled by individuals like William Hale.
- The true threat to the Osage came from within their own community, as trusted individuals allowed greed and entitlement to justify their abhorrent actions.
Killers of the Flower Moon is the enigmatic title of Martin Scorcese’s latest film that means something different to the Osage Nation and the historical drama’s plot. Based on the nonfiction book by Daniel Grann, Killers of the Flower Moon’s true story exposes a shameful period in American history when over 80 Osage were killed in Oklahoma over their oil headrights. After the oil had been discovered on land given to the tribe by the federal government, they became the wealthiest Americans per capita, but Congress quickly passed a law in 1921 that made it illegal for them to spend their own money without approval from a white guardian.
These guardians acquired massive control, and others, like cattle baron William Hale (Robert de Niro), were anxious to achieve similar influence and started to marry into the tribe. Between 1918 and 1931, the “Reign of Terror” saw dozens of Osage women killed by their white husbands, their murders covered up by the local law enforcement and county officials until finally, the fledgling Bureau of Investigation opened a case at the behest of J. Edgar Hoover and brought the killing spree to national attention. The eradication of so many Osage almost went entirely unnoticed for decades, and as Killers of the Flower Moon’s ending explains, many are still unsolved.
Killers Of The Flower Moon’s Title Refers To An Old Osage Story
William Hale gives his nephew Ernest (Leonardo DiCaprio) a history book about the Osage to study, hoping that it will help ingratiate him with the tribe. According to an old Osage story that Earnest reads, the “flower-killing moon” refers to a time in May when the “purple flowers that spread over the blackjack hills [like] sugar candy” by Wah-kon-tah, the Great Spirit, die as taller plants crowd them. The necks of the flowers break and the petals flutter on the breeze, leaving the rest of the flower to get buried underground and be part of a regenerative cycle that speaks to the benevolence of Mother Earth and the Great Spirit.
Ernest, like his uncle, takes the time to get to know the Osage by learning their customs as well as their language. Unfortunately, this belies the avarice of the Hales, and the appreciation for Osage culture only extends as far as functionality. Ernest comes across as a more sympathetic character than the rest of his family, but thinks nothing of arranging to kill Mollie Burkhart’s sister in order to see the money from her headrights go to Mollie and incidentally, him. Learning about his wife’s culture doesn’t inspire any significant empathy for the plight of her people.
What Killers Of The Flower Moon Really Means
The imagery of taller plants crowding out the purple flowers in the Oklahoma hills is perfectly symbolic of what happened to the Osage during the Reign of Terror. William Hale considered himself “King of the Oklahoma Hills” and used his influence and eligible male family members to “crowd” out the Osage by making sure that slowly over time, through marriage and offspring, the Hales controlled the territory. He even had Henry Roan, an Osage man he considered his “best friend” killed in order to control his land and benefit from a $25,000 life insurance policy he took out on him.
The true killers of the flower moon were the men like Hale who allowed greed, prejudice, and entitlement to justify their abhorrent actions. The murder of Mollie’s older sister Anna took place in May 1921 during the start of the “flower-killing moon” and revealed that the true threat to the Burkharts and indeed many Osage families came from within, instigated by people they trusted. The pain that Mollie and her family suffered over the rights to their oil money was amplified by dozens of deaths, many of which haven’t been solved to this day, but thanks to Killers of the Flower Moon may finally receive the attention they deserve.