Indigenous 'Killers of the Flower Moon' actors talk about their experiences during world premiere
Indigenous representation was a big deal on the red carpet of the Cannes Film Festival in France. KOSU’s Allison Herrera talked with several Indigenous actors about their experience.
When Tatanka Means heard he was cast to play FBI agent John Wren, he didn't have much written material to go on.
"He was [an FBI agent], of course….but he didn't turn in reports," the award-winning actor and comedian from Chinle, Arizona said. Means is Oglala Lakota, Omaha and Navajo from the Bitter Water Clan.
In the book Killers of the Flower Moon, author David Grann wrote that Wren was likely the only Native FBI agent investigating the infamous Osage murders. And, he exhausted his superiors with his lack of note-taking. But Means says Wren had something the other agents didn't have: trust.
"Everybody at that time in the community among the Osage were scared to talk to a white man, to talk to a white person because they were scared to lose their lives," Means said.
Indigenous actors play some of the most important parts of the new, critically acclaimed film Killers of the Flower Moon alongside Lily Gladstone, Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro.
Cara Jade Myers, who is Kiowa and enrolled in Wichita, started acting at 22 and is currently writing a feature with her writing partner Dennis MaGee Fallon. She's also working on a documentary.
She plays Anna Kyle Brown in the movie and said she wanted to portray Anna as a fun-loving person straddling two worlds – like a lot of Osages in the 1920s, when the movie is set.
"My main focus was to make sure that Anna was rooted in something, and I wanted it to be that her family was so important to her," said Myers.
Myers said she loved improvising. Like in one scene where she and her sisters Mollie, Minnie and Rita were at a picnic eating cookies talking about how, even though they were trying to steal their money, they found some of these white men, like DiCaprio’s character Ernest, handsome. She said this is one of the most tragic parts of the film.
"These women were genuinely trusting and loving, and they expected their husbands to take care of them and protect them," Myers explained from her room at the Hôtel Barrière Le Majestic in Cannes. The story of the Kyle sisters is the ultimate betrayal in the film.
"Even though it's a happy scene, if you know the ending, it makes it tragic,” she said.
Yancey Red Corn, portrays Principal Chief Bonnicastle in the film. He drew upon his experiences watching his late father, Charles Red Corn, and uncles negotiate with members of congress for the Osage Nation.
"I got to meet senators and see how they visited," Red Corn said from his Norman, Oklahoma home. "So, I learned a lot through my dad and how he mediated and negotiated and talked with them, and he would get what he wanted…but he was real subtle."
In 2013, a friend dared Red Corn to try out for the part of Chief Bromden in a 2012 adaptation of Ken Kesey's novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest at the Civic Center Music Hall's City Space Theatre in Oklahoma City.
"I looked at the script and I started reading it and I go, 'holy smokes, this isn't like the movie,'" Red Corn recalled about his character who read soliloquies to the audience and was a major part in the play. Red Corn said he learned a lot from that experience.
He was really pleased that the opening scene in the movie featured a scene from his father Charles Red Corn's book. It's the prologue of the 2002 book A Pipe for February, which is also about the Osage murders and is acknowledged by Grann as a source of inspiration.
"The Osages that are going to see this movie when it comes out, I think it's going to be really emotional for them,” he said.
In the scene and in the book, a spiritual leader is burying a pipe. He says that now children will be taught by white people, and will learn a different language.
Yancey said his father wanted to show how Osages were having to juggle living in the modern world with being traditional.
"That's kind of what happened with the main character, John Gray Eagle," Red Corn explained.
Red Corn has a personal connection to Killers of the Flower Moon. His great-grandfather, Raymond Red Corn Sr. was poisoned, and his case was never solved. The whole system, he says, was corrupt — making it impossible to find out who was responsible.
"That's everything that went from your neighbors to the local pastors, to the morticians, to the doctors, to the police force, to the federal government, to the state government. Who do you go to?" Red Corn said.
Even though he said his dad was someone not known to outwardly show emotion, he would have been excited by the opening scene in the film.
"My dad would have been overwhelmed," Red Corn said.
All three actors say being among peers and other Indigenous people on the red carpet was surreal. They have hopes that the film sparks conversations about Native history and the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous people.
Telling stories like the one in the film is in murky political waters in Oklahoma, especially in schools. That’s thanks to the state’s so-called critical race theory ban, which bars teachers from some uncomfortable talk about race in the classroom.
But they say stories like this one should still be told.
"I hope they embrace it and that it's just its history, and we need to learn from it,” Myers said. "People didn't care about Natives back then. Like the line in the movie — you're more likely to go to jail for kicking a dog than murdering a Native."
"I hope other studios [and writers] take [this] into consideration: go to the community, go to the people, speak with them, and work with them. That's big," Means said.