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Leonardo DiCaprio addresses Hollywood’s ‘chequered past’ when it comes to depicting Native Americans

Leonardo DiCaprio has reflected on Hollywood’s depictions of Native American people ahead of the release of Martin Scorsese’s new film, Killers of the Flower Moon.

The Western true-crime thriller is an adaption of David Grann’s 2017 non-fiction book, which documented the murders that plagued the Osage Indian tribe in Oklahoma in the 1920s after oil was found on their land. The case was deemed the FBI’s first homicide investigation.

DiCaprio, 48, stars as Ernest Burkhart in the film alongside Native American actor Lily Gladstone, whose performance has been singled out by critics, as his wife, Mollie Kyle.

In a joint interview for British Vogue, conducted before the SAG-AFTRA strikes, the pair of actors were asked about the film’s predominantly white production team.

“Nobody is going to hand an Osage filmmaker $200m [£161m],” Gladstone, 37, said. “There’s a level of allyship that’s absolutely necessary.”

“Hollywood has a long history and chequered past in its depiction of Native American people,” DiCaprio added. “We need to do more. You know, we are coming towards a great reckoning of our past. The more that these stories can be told in a truthful way, the more it can be a healing process.”

The Oscar-winner continued: “It’s a completely forgotten part of American history. And an open wound that still festers.”

Lily Gladstone and Leonardo DiCaprio in ‘Killers of the Flower Moon’ (AppleTV+)
Lily Gladstone and Leonardo DiCaprio in ‘Killers of the Flower Moon’ (AppleTV+)

“It’s not that long ago that the Reign of Terror happened,” Gladstone agreed, referring to the name ascribed to the deadly era by the Osage. “I don’t want to label this a Western. I’m happy that it’s being labelled a tragedy.”

Elsewhere in the interview, DiCaprio heaped praise on his costar. “Lily is absolutely astonishing in this movie,” he said. “She carries the entire film and the story.”

He said that director Scorsese, 80, knew immediately that she was the right actor for the role thanks to the “truthfulness” he saw in her eyes.

“There was no reading. Marty just instinctively knew Lily was the one. … I’ve never known [Scorsese] meet somebody and then immediately afterwards have this gravitational pull and instinct to say, ‘Let’s not wait another minute,’” DiCaprio said.

In a recent interview with Time magazine, Scorsese admitted to overhauling the script for the film after realising he was “making a movie about all the white guys”.

Lily Gladstone and Martin Scorsese in ‘Killers of the Flower Moon’ (Apple TV+)
Lily Gladstone and Martin Scorsese in ‘Killers of the Flower Moon’ (Apple TV+)

DiCaprio was originally set to play FBI agent Tom White, who investigated the murders; however, the role was recast (given to Jesse Plemons) after the pair realised that Burkart and Kyle’s relationship should be the core of the movie.

Scorsese and his team worked closely with Osage Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear and his office, the director’s consulting producer Chad Renfro told Time, and hundreds of Osage were involved in making the film. “The first day of filming, we had an elder, Archie Mason, come and say a prayer,” Renfro said.

In a five-star review for The Independent, critic Clarisse Loughrey observed how Killers of the Flower Moon carries Scorsese’s “tradition fixations: the rotted core of man’s heart; how power breeds the impulse for destruction; the myths of cowboys and outlaws and the dirty truth to them”.

She also singled out Gladstone’s performance as “one of the most extraordinary performances by a woman in any of Scorsese’s movies”.

“She is serene but not saintly; a figure of tragedy with fire in her belly,” Loughrey writes. “The first time we dive into Mollie’s perspective, it’s with a force that could suck the breath out of your body.”

Killers of the Flower Moon will be released on 6 October, before streaming globally on Apple TV+.