“Why the hell does the world not know about these things?” — Centering Indigenous voices at Cannes

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From Killers of the Flower Moon to The New Boy, the 2023 Cannes Film Festival shines a light on the vital impact of telling Indigenous stories. 

You never bet against Marty, but even he knows when he needs some extra advisement.Killers of the Flower Moon, the latest epic from the legendary director, has received a rapturous reception from its premiere at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, including an outpour of ecstatic reviews on Letterboxd.

Chronicling the horrific murders of the Osage nation in the 1920s, Flower Moon’s acclaim has noted the decision to place narrative perspective on the marriage of Ernest and Mollie Burkhart (Leonardo DiCaprio and Lily Gladstone, both outstanding), using this relationship to interrogate both the collective and personal levels on which these crimes were felt.

At the press conference the day after the film’s premiere, Chief Standing Bear, leader of the Osage nation, described how that focus was vital to Scorsese’s telling of the story. “I asked Mr. Scorsese, how are you going to approach the story? He said, “I’m going to tell a story about trust,’” the Chief told the attendees. “Trust between Molly and Ernest, trust between the outside world and the Osage and a betrayal of those trusts, deep betrayal. My people suffered greatly, and to this very day, those effects are with us. But I can say on behalf of the Osage, Martin Scorsese and his team have restored trust, and we know that trust will not be betrayed.”

Meanwhile, on Friday, Cate Blanchett and director Warwick Thornton presented The New Boy, starring Blanchett as a nun whose faith is rocked when a nine-year-old Aboriginal boy is delivered to the remote monastery she runs. An exploration of how imported colonial faith eroded Indigenous spirituality, Thornton explained to Letterboxd the Australian cinematic language in which his film is situated.

“We make a lot of films about the fear of the landscape, colonizing the landscape,” he said. “Cinema about the space between where the English green grass that we have planted in Australia to feel like we’re in England ends and the bush starts—that transition, that veranda between two worlds… which is a great place to have conversations.” 

As issy notes, The New Boy is an “unflinching gaze back at what Australian cinema has already created,” asking, “what would this be from an Aboriginal perspective?”

Alongside interrogations of fascism in The Zone of Interest and Occupied City, the first weekend of Cannes illustrated the potential of cinema as political art; cinema as a call to learn, to remember, and to challenge evil. As Gladstone shared on Saturday, “why the hell does the world not know about these things? Our communities always have.”

Read more about how the Osage nation shaped Killers of the Flower Moon in Brian Formo’s two-part report from Scorsese’s CinemaCon conversation with Leonardo DiCaprio here and here

For a deep dive into the past and present of Indigenous cinema, Letterboxd’s Indigenous editor Leo Koziol takes us into films made in the 20th century and in the 21st.

George Fenwick, London correspondent

(Pictured, left to right: stars JaNae Collins, Lily Gladstone, Cara Jade Myers and Jillian Dion in ‘Killers of the Flower Moon’)