At its core, Martin Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon is a story of racism and environmental injustice. The movie tells the story of the Osage Reign of Terror—a series of homicides that occurred in the 1920s following the discovery of oil on Osage Nation land. More than just a gripping tale of crime and corruption, the movie also serves as a parable for the climate crisis and the perils associated with the fossil fuel industry.
More than just a gripping tale of crime and corruption, the movie also serves as a parable for the climate crisis and the perils associated with the fossil fuel industry.
Prior to the discovery of oil deposits beneath Osage land in Oklahoma in 1894, Osage people, who were not yet considered U.S. citizens, lived in extreme poverty. Now, suddenly, they gained access to extraordinary wealth. But the Bureau of Indian Affairs concluded that the Osage people were not sufficiently capable of managing their own wealth. Consequently, the U.S. government assigned Osage people white “guardians.” These guardians wrote themselves into Osage wills and insurance policies, ultimately orchestrating the murder of their wards and seizing their oil rights.
The rapid extraction of oil on Osage land, without regard for the local inhabitants, led to various adverse environmental impacts. For example, toxic sludge spilled into creeks and water supplies.
Killers of the Flower Moon highlights the complicity of both the oil industry and the United States government in these atrocities and environmental injustices. Oil companies built enormous wealth by leasing and exploiting Osage land. The U.S., as a nation, also benefited economically while disregarding the impacts of the industry’s greed for marginalized communities and communities of color.
Killers of the Flower Moon challenges us to recognize the inherent dangers of fossil fuels and to take proactive steps toward a more sustainable and equitable future.
This pattern of environmental injustice unfortunately continues to this day. People who live in the most polluted areas in the United States are disproportionately people of color and people grappling with economic hardship. Studies have shown that marginalized communities are routinely chosen as the sites for industrial plants, landfills, hazardous waste dump sites, and other facilities that pose significant risks to the environment and the well-being of residents. This injustice perpetuates a cycle of unequal exposure to pollutants, with marginalized populations bearing the brunt of the health consequences. Addressing these disparities is not only a matter of environmental concern but also an urgent issue of social justice.
As we grapple with the challenges of the modern world’s energy needs, Killers of the Flower Moon challenges us to recognize the inherent dangers of our dependence on fossil fuels and to take proactive steps toward a more sustainable and equitable future. FCNL advocates for a transition to a green economy at home and abroad. But as we make this global transition, we must not repeat the mistakes of the past. Among other efforts, we are urging the U.S. government to provide robust funding for international climate assistance to address the harms that fossil fuels have created while ensuring that local communities, particularly those in developing countries, benefit first and foremost in the transition to green economies.