What follows is tragedy: theft, poison, massacre, and finally, a trail of dead that maps the path behind us (and ahead). The birth of this nation is written in blood; the seed that spawned our destinies is a ravenous greed, yet to be satiated in all its mad destruction.
Few filmmakers have so thoroughly excoriated this past as Martin Scorsese has in his tragic fables of men rotted by American myths. That project has never been more explicit than in Killers of the Flower Moon (2023), his latest film, adapted from David Grann’s 2017 nonfiction novel about the serial murders of wealthy Osage heirs that shook Oklahoma in the early 1920s. Robert De Niro plays William Hale, the architect of this horror, then known as the Reign of Terror. After oil deposits were discovered on Indigenous land, Hale orchestrated the systematic murder and robbery of Indigenous people in Osage County for their inheritance. Ascendant star Lily Gladstone emerges at the center of this tale as the regal, strong-willed Mollie, who marries Hale’s venal nephew Ernest (Leonardo DiCaprio) and finds herself increasingly alienated as each of her family members begins dying under mysterious circumstances.
Gladstone’s performance has already garnered lavish acclaim. Not only does she emerge as a standout, matching the dynamism of veteran actors De Niro and DiCaprio, but Scorsese himself revealed that the young actress became a beacon of guidance during production. The film owes much to Gladstone’s perceptiveness and grasp of Mollie, a portrayal profoundly shaped by what the actress—of Nimíipuu and Blackfeet heritage—drew from her own upbringing. I was fortunate enough to speak with Gladstone just after the film’s world premiere at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival. By then, she had traded the sultry shores of the French Riviera for the flat, grassy plains of Pawhuska, Oklahoma, where Killers of the Flower Moon was filmed. Gladstone had returned, for the third summer in a row—every summer since filming—for Gray Horse dance season. Over the phone, we talked about how her connection to her namesake grandmother informed her performance of Mollie, the power of Indigenous language and storytelling practices, and the organic, community-oriented process research that was so central to the development of the film.