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How Osage people are shaping their own story before release of 'Killers of the Flower Moon' film

Allison Herrera
Henry Roanhorse Gray holds a sign at his office in Tulsa for the 'Wahzhazhe Always.'

Killers of the Flower Moon, the nonfiction book by David Grann about the Osage murders, has been made into a movie by director Martin Scorsese. Over the weekend, it made its Oklahoma debut for some Osage citizens.

Henry Roanhorse Gray has had a knot in his stomach for the last five years. But he's finally feeling some relief.

"We're going to see what this movie's actually like," Roanhorse Gray said.

The movie he's talking about is Killers of the Flower Moon and that five-year knot is referring to the time between now and when he first heard the book by David Grann was being made into a movie.

Since the release date, Apple, the company behind the film, has teased fans with photos and trailers. A new full-length trailer dropped last week featuring some of the Osage cast, including Everett Waller, who is the chairman of the Osage Minerals Council.

Roanhorse Gray hasn't seen the movie yet. But, he's nervous, and rightfully so.

"My hope is that the movie's well done and that what can come next is a renewed interest in the history of the United States in terms of its treatment of Native Americans," he said

Roanhorse Gray works for the Osage Nation’s communications department. Among his artworks by Osage artists, whiteboards and photographs are a stack of yard signs that read "Wahzhazhe Always" — a campaign he worked to run alongside the film.

"Wahzhazhe Always is like a unifying call for Osage in Oklahoma, Osage is in California, Osage is everywhere that we are a united people under that majority name and that our ancestors fought for us to be here, and we are here, and we should be proud of that," Roanhorse Gray said.

His dad is Jim Gray, the former Principal Chief of the Osage Nation, and his great-great-grandfather is Henry Roan, who was murdered by one of William Hale's henchmen. It's depicted in the movie and was written about in the book. He said people have asked him about it.

"'Do you know about Henry Roan? Like, you guys share a name. You must know about him,'" Roanhorse Gray recounted.

He knew people's questions came from a good place, even though they may seem out of touch.

"They're curious, they're interested, and they want to find that connection with me. And that's all fine," said Roanhorse Gray.

Russ Tallchief
Russ Tallchief
Russ Tallchief

Russ Tallchief also works for the Osage Nation, and had a bit part in the film. His great aunties are Marjorie and Maria Tallchief, who were world-famous ballerinas in the 1920s from Fairfax.

His scene in the movie nods toward them.

"We danced the Charleston," Tallchief said, referring to a dance scene and party that takes place in the middle of the movie. "I got to rub boots with Leonardo DiCaprio, literally, as he was walking through. I think I might have kicked him a little bit accidentally while I was dancing because we danced hard."

When he heard the movie was going to be made, like many others, he had concerns about how some of the murders would be portrayed.

"I think that this story does not need to be told graphically," Tallchief said. "I think that due to the fact that we are all survivors of that period, that there's still a lot of sensitivity about what happened."

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Osages shape the narrative

Shannon Shaw Duty (right) and her husband Jason Duty went to France for the Cannes Film Festival to see the debut of the "Killers of the Flower Moon," film.
Allison Herrera
Shannon Shaw Duty (right) and her husband Jason Duty went to France for the Cannes Film Festival to see the debut of the "Killers of the Flower Moon" film.

There is still a lot of sensitivity, but there are others who want the story out there, and want it to be known — like Shannon Shaw Duty, editor of the Osage News. She saw the movie when it premiered at Cannes.

Her great-aunt Liz's generation had trouble talking about what happened to people they knew — so they just didn't discuss it.

"That former generation of my great-aunt Liz didn't want to talk about it, and we never understood, but we do now," Shaw Duty said. "We understand it now. It was way too painful to even talk about because they knew the people that died."

As the editor of Osage News, she heard from a lot of Osages about the making of the movie. They were outraged, excited, and overwhelmed.

Shaw Duty said she grew up on Scorsese's films and is a fan.

"We had The Age of Innocence on repeat in my home growing up, and Casino is like one of my favorite films," Shaw Duty said.

She says her love of film initially overshadowed her fears for the community. But then, she heard some people involved in early stages of the film say it wasn't putting Osages in a positive light.

That all changed, though, following a community meeting in the tiny Osage County community of Gray Horse. Shaw Duty said Scorsese went there to talk to Osages.

"The way that he intently listened to everyone stand up and speak their truth, their concerns," Shaw Duty said referring to the meeting. "Then at the end, he gave some remarks to us and was just so down to earth, and it was just like meeting anybody else. And I just knew then that we were in good hands."

From there, she says she enjoyed being on set — her mother Ruth Shaw has a small part in the movie. She also reviewed it for Osage News and has gotten to speak to Scorsese and the stars of the film about their experience coming into her community.

Shaw Duty says now, she feels people are ready to talk about their grief — at least she does.

"We talk about trauma, we talk about counseling, we talk about mental health. All of these things have prepared us to talk about these things and deal with it and know how to address our grief," Shaw Duty said

The film will have a limited theatrical release on October 6, before being widely released on October 20.

Allison Herrera is a radio and print journalist who's worked for PRX's The World, Colorado Public Radio as the climate and environment editor and as a freelance reporter for High Country News’ Indigenous Affairs desk.
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