Where will the movie be filmed next year? Who will monitor the speaking of the Osage language? What will be changed as the book is adapted into a Hollywood movie?
Count Addie Roanhorse among those excited by the idea of a film adapted from the best-selling book “Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI,” with Oscar-winners Leonardo DiCaprio starring and Martin Scorsese directing.
The Pawhuska artist and many others hope that a movie can be as thorough as author David Grann’s research as he wrote about dozens of Osage tribal members who were murdered after they became rich when oil was found on their land in the 1920s.
Roanhorse, like other Osage Nation members, has a personal connection to those who seemingly overnight went from near-poverty to remarkable wealth — with white “guardians” overseeing their money.
Her great-great grandfather, Henry Roan, was among the many killed between 1921-1925, when he was shot in the head during what came to be known as the Osage “Reign of Terror.”
His wife died in a suspicious car accident. Other people were poisoned; a family’s home was bombed.
“I hope the (filmmakers) do the right thing, and that would be to film it here. It happened here,” Roanhorse said of her unique home.
“Some of the buildings important to the story are still standing. The language was the first thing brought up by Chief (Geoffrey) Standing Bear during an early phone call. Most of our full-bloods spoke Osage at the time of these events.”
But will it film in Oklahoma, at least partially?
“We’ve been asking that question for months,” said Standing Bear. “The production company has been very open with us, and they have said that filming here is a decision that they have not yet made.”
“It’s definitely a business, and when I met with a state film commission representative, what we heard was not what we wanted it to be when we’re in competition with other states,” he said.
Oklahoma’s film enhancement rebate program has an annual cap of $4 million, and “Killers of the Flower Moon” would not be a low-budget production.
“So we would offer them stays in Osage Casino hotels,” Standing Bear said. “We’ll offer them the services of our crafts people, those who make our traditional clothing. We want to make it where it makes sense to them (to film here).”
At least a timetable for filming has now been set.
Scorsese and DiCaprio, attached to the project after Imperative Entertainment paid $5 million for the rights to the book in 2016, finally confirmed they want to make “Killers of the Flower Moon” their next project, with filming to start as early as next summer.
“When I read David Grann’s book, I immediately started seeing it — the people, the settings, the action — and I knew that I had to make it into a movie,” Scorsese said in a press release this week.
“I’m so excited to be working with (screenwriter of ‘Forrest Gump’) Eric Roth and reuniting with Leo DiCaprio to bring this truly unsettling American story to the screen.”
Representatives of Imperative came to Pawhuska earlier this year, and Roanhorse and interior designer Chad Renfro, an Osage Nation board member, were asked to serve as ambassadors to welcome these artistic entrepreneurs.
“We wanted to know where they stood — from where it would film to whether it would be a film more about the FBI, or more about the people, the tribe’s people,” Roanhorse said.
They led the production representatives to the White Hair Memorial in Fairfax as well as the Gray Horse Cemetery, and then into Pawhuska for a traditional Osage dinner, where they talked with other descendants of the victims.
She said tribal members liked what they heard regarding Mollie Burkhart, an Osage woman whose family was targeted. Her sisters and mother were murdered, and Burkhart survived being poisoned.
“They said they wanted to tell a story in which Mollie would be the heroine,” Roanhorse said with great pride.
“Little girls need someone to look up to and not another ‘poor little Indian girl’ story. Mollie made it through some unspeakable things.”
Some things that will forever be a part of Roanhorse’s family history.
“I’ve always known this story from a young age,” she said. “I told it to friends, and people thought the story was crazy.
“Then the book came out, and they said, ‘What you told us really happened!’ Uh, yeah, I’ve been trying to tell you.”