Why Martin Scorsese's Killers of the Flower Moon is an Oscar Best Picture frontrunner

Ayaan Paul
Ayaan PaulMay 19, 2023 | 12:53

Why Martin Scorsese's Killers of the Flower Moon is an Oscar Best Picture frontrunner

Martin Scorsese's upcoming Killers of the Flower Moon just dropped its long awaited first look, ahead of its Cannes 2023 premiere. We take a quick look at why the veteran director’s Apple Original might be one to look out for come awards season this year.

Killers of the Flower Moon reunites Scorsese with his longtime muses Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro, making it a highly anticipated collaboration. Based on David Grann's 2017 best-selling non-fiction book Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI, the Western epic delves into the series of Osage Nation murders over oil rights and the FBI's investigation into the killings, set in 1920s Oklahoma.


Have a look at the first teaser trailer:

The film boasts an impressive ensemble cast, including Jesse Plemons and Lily Gladstone, who garnered attention for her exceptional performance in Kelly Reichardt's Certain Women (2016). Both DiCaprio and De Niro, have a rich history with Scorsese, with De Niro earning Oscar nominations for his roles in Scorsese's Taxi Driver, Cape Fear, and Raging Bull, the latter of which he won. DiCaprio, too, has received Oscar nominations for his performances in Scorsese's The Aviator and The Wolf of Wall Street. With Killers of the Flower Moon, all three collaborators come together for the first time on a feature film.

DiCaprio takes on the role of Ernest Burkhart, the nephew of a powerful local rancher portrayed by De Niro. Burkhart becomes entangled in the Osage Nation murders, while also being married to an Indigenous woman played by Lily Gladstone. Plemons portrays Tom White, the lead FBI agent tasked with investigating the killings. Interestingly, the initial plan was for DiCaprio to play the FBI agent, but he later decided to switch roles, opting for the morally ambiguous character of Ernest. 


A notable addition to the cast is Lily Gladstone, an American actress of Blackfeet and Nimíipuu heritage. Given her talent and the significance of her role in the film, there is speculation that Gladstone could make a powerful impact in the awards season, potentially earning her the distinction of being the first Native American actress to be nominated for an Oscar.

Considering the stature of the talent involved, Killers of the Flower Moon has the potential to be a strong contender for numerous awards. Both De Niro and DiCaprio are expected to deliver exceptional performances, with De Niro often excelling in villainous roles and DiCaprio showcasing the internal struggles of his character. Additionally, Jesse Plemons, who portrays one of the few morally upright characters in the story, could also be a strong contender for a Supporting Actor nomination.


The film benefits from a stellar behind-the-scenes team as well. Scorsese has assembled a group of seasoned collaborators, including cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto, who has previously worked with the director on multiple projects. Prieto's visually stunning work has earned him several nominations in the past, and his contribution to Killers of the Flower Moon is expected to be no different. Production designer Jack Fisk, known for his work on There Will Be Blood, brings his expertise to recreate the atmospheric setting of 1920s Oklahoma. With Thelma Schoonmaker handling the editing, Robbie Robertson composing the score, and Jacqueline West designing the costumes, the film boasts a formidable crew that further enhances its artistic and technical merits.

In terms of awards potential, Scorsese's previous accolades and reputation as a master filmmaker certainly work in favor of Killers of the Flower Moon. While he has won Best Director only once, his impact on cinema is undeniable, and his films consistently resonate with audiences and critics alike. Co-writer Eric Roth, who has an Oscar win to his name, adds further weight to the film's script, ensuring a compelling narrative that intertwines historical events with personal drama. 

In addition to its artistic merits, Killers of the Flower Moon carries immense significance due to its emphasis on a predominantly Native American cast and crew and its commitment to telling an authentic Native American story. The film's exploration of the Osage Nation murders and the historical context surrounding them sheds light on a dark chapter in American history that is often overlooked.

Representation and inclusivity in cinema have become crucial topics in recent years, and the industry has been called upon to provide authentic portrayals of underrepresented communities. Killers of the Flower Moon rises to this challenge by featuring Indigenous actors in significant roles and casting them as members of the Osage Nation. By doing so, the film not only showcases the talent and presence of Native American performers but also fosters a greater sense of authenticity and cultural resonance.

Recognizing the importance of accuracy and respect, Martin Scorsese was adamant about casting Indigenous actors as members of the Osage Nation. This commitment to representation extends beyond the cast, as the film incorporates Native American talent in various aspects of production, including Robbie Robertson as composer. By engaging Native American crew members, the film ensures that the story is approached with cultural sensitivity and a deep understanding of the community being portrayed. Such an approach not only contributes to the authenticity of the film but also provides opportunities for Native American voices to be heard and celebrated in the filmmaking process.

If the film were to secure the Best Picture win, it would serve as a groundbreaking achievement for Native American representation in cinema. It would highlight the industry's progress toward acknowledging the importance of diverse perspectives and narratives. Such recognition on a platform like the Academy Awards would not only validate the efforts of the cast and crew but also inspire future filmmakers to delve into meaningful stories from marginalized communities.

Moreover, the film's success would contribute to a wider cultural conversation about the importance of Native American history and experiences. By bringing the Osage Nation murders to the forefront, Killers of the Flower Moon creates an opportunity for audiences to learn about and reflect on a significant event that has long been overlooked in mainstream narratives. It amplifies the voices and stories of Indigenous communities, fostering a greater understanding and appreciation of their heritage and struggles.

Though all of this is still just speculation, it will be interesting to watch the film’s trajectory unfold as we move closer towards this year’s awards season.

To know more about the annual awards season and a film’s cycle through the various precursors, have a look at How To Win An Oscar

Last updated: May 19, 2023 | 12:53
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