Law in Popular Culture

Martin Scorsese and Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear discuss making of 'Killers of the Flower Moon'

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Martin Scorsese and Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear appeared as guests on an episode of the ABA Presidential Speaker Series.

ABA President Mary Smith describes Martin Scorsese’s latest film Killers of the Flower Moon as a true story that reveals the greed, violence and racial injustice that arose during a disturbing chapter in our country’s history.

“At its core, the film underscores the critical importance of the rule of law and the pursuit of justice,” said Smith, who interviewed Scorsese and Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear of the Osage Nation on Wednesday in the latest installment of the ABA Presidential Speaker Series. “For lawyers, it serves as a powerful reminder of our role in upholding justice, safeguarding the rights of all citizens and ensuring that no one is above the law.”

Scorsese worked closely with Standing Bear and members of the Osage Nation when making the film, which is based on David Grann’s 2017 book Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI. Set largely on the Osage Nation’s reservation in northern Oklahoma, it recounts the suspicious murders of dozens of tribal members who became wealthy after oil was discovered beneath their land in the 1920s, a time that became known as the Reign of Terror.

Scorsese and cast at CannesMartin Scorsese (second from left) attended the Cannes Film Festival in France with Killers of the Flower Moon actors Robert De Niro, Lily Gladstone and Leonardo DiCaprio. Photo by LOIC VENANCE/AFP via Getty Images.

“The idea was to make it as authentic as possible,” Scorsese said. “[We] tried to get as many elements of the culture of the Osage in the film, … but the thing about it was that there was no delineation between the Osage in front of the camera and behind the camera. We all worked together.”

Scorsese and Standing Bear were also interviewed by Jimmy K. Goodman, president of the American Bar Foundation and an Oklahoma lawyer. In addition to authenticity, they discussed the importance of being sensitive to and considerate of the people whose stories are shared through the film.

“I’ve always talked to my uncles and my dad and everybody about this whole time period, and it’s one thing to hear about it, the way they presented it; and it’s a whole other thing to see it come alive on the screen,” said Standing Bear, who practiced law for 34 years before his election as principal chief of the Osage Nation. “This movie brings this to life and the people to life.”

“We embrace this,” he added. “I don’t know one Osage that says, ‘I will never not see this movie or wish I hadn’t seen this movie.’ Everybody wants to see it, and that’s the power of this movie.”

When discussing what has changed in the last 100 years and what lessons from the film can be applied today, Standing Bear contended that the Osage Nation and other tribes have to take advantage of existing federal laws that allow for self-determination and economic self-sufficiency.

Lawyers in particular, Standing Bear added, should remember laws themselves are sometimes wrong. He has been told that dozens of lawyers helped misappropriate the Osages’ land and wealth during the time period featured in the film. And because it was legal, he said, they didn’t ask questions.

“It’s beyond an individual ethical question,” Standing Bear said. “It’s a question that a [group of] attorneys need to get together with social scientists to say, ‘How do we determine the validity of law in situations where greed overcomes the rule of law or some obscene search for power?’”

Scorsese added that lawyers and others who see the film should remember to never lose their curiosity about other people and cultures.

“Learn what other cultures are about, what other religions are about, and in such a way not only to give them dignity and respect but also [to consider] how your life could be enriched,” he said. “You may not necessarily agree with everything they say, but they could open your eyes to other ways of looking at what you’re doing and how you’re feeling.”

The ABA Presidential Speaker Series is a collection of discussions exploring the personal and professional journeys of world leaders, philanthropists and other change-making guests.

For more information or to view the entire interview with Scorsese and Standing Bear, visit the ABA Presidential Speaker Series website.

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