Mollie Burkhart was an Osage woman whose family members were murdered by non-Indians in order to steal their mineral wealth.

Who will play an Osage woman in a film about the Osage people?

Killers of the Flower Moon set to begin production in 2021 in new deal with Apple
But who’s going to play the role of Mollie?

Following the news of Hollywood’s theatrical release of David Grann’s worldwide bestseller, Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI will finally go into production in February of ’21. The movie will be directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert DeNiro.

The massive project, like the rest of the industry, has been rocked by the pandemic and production has gone through many changes since last November, when Director Martin Scorsese met with Osage people from the Gray Horse district. Scorsese announced that filming was to begin in March but in January of this year he stated that he wanted to spend some more time on the script after meeting with Osage tribal members who asked him to treat the depiction of the Osage victims of this murder scheme with some dignity and respect. It was later announced that production was put off till May of 2020.

Of course the coronavirus shut down the entire industry for probably the rest of the year, but it was clear Hollywood was dealing with more than that, AMC theaters announced they may not survive the pandemic. This news may or may not have had anything to do with Scorsese having talks with Netflix and other streaming services to pick up the project. According to published reports, Scorsese inked a production deal with Apple to produce and stream the movie and Paramount would still retain rights to the theatrical distribution of the film. 

Excitement in the Osage community has been growing after Scorsese met with Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear last summer where the famous director announced that he would be making the film in the Osage Nation. Shortly afterwards he was seen frequently walking the streets of Pawhuska with his entourage, getting selfies with locals and generally charming the entire community. Later last fall, he conducted a series of casting calls throughout the Osage Nation and Oklahoma where literally thousands of Osages and Native people signed up to be in the film.

With a staggering budget of over $200 million (Dances with Wolves was made with a $22 million budget, about $46 million when adjusted for inflation), Killers of the Flower Moon will probably be the biggest movie ever made about Native American people. Combined with an A-list screenwriter Eric Roth, A-list director Scorsese and A-list actors in DiCaprio and DeNiro, the only question people around here as asking, who’s going to play Mollie Burkhart?

Burkhart is the Osage woman who is rumored to be the focus of the film (if you believe the trades). It was her husband who was supposed to murder her and their children after the killers successfully murdered her entire family so they could collect their wealth. As the lone survivor of these murders, it was Mollie who watched as her husband Ernest turns evidence on his uncle who was the mastermind of the plot to wipe out this Osage family.

So who’s going to play Mollie? Because whoever gets this part will have to represent the authenticity of a full blood Osage woman in the early part of the twentieth century in Oklahoma.

Osage women are often referred to as the backbone of our community, not just as mothers and wives but keepers of our traditions, our songs, and performed the essential work in maintaining the Osage way of life. Mollie who as an adult watched her Osage world evolve and change in ways no one could imagine during her lifetime.

The actress who plays the role of Mollie can’t phone this one in. How would a typical Hollywood actress know what is in the heart of an Osage woman in 1920s Oklahoma? She must put herself in her world, how does someone know what part of the Osage ways to keep, what to put away, what western ways to adopt or resist or more importantly, who to trust, who to love or who to hate?

God, I hope she’s Native.

I would argue, this decision by the filmmakers maybe more consequential than any decision they’ve made yet.

Jim Gray (Osage) is the former Chief of the Osage Nation and former Publisher of the Native American Times newspaper. Today, he’s a consultant in Indian Country residing in the Osage Nation.

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