An Osage Journey: Yancey Red Corn's Role in 'Killers of the Flower Moon' - 405 Magazine

An Osage Journey: Yancey Red Corn’s Role in ‘Killers of the Flower Moon’

A Tribute to Osage Culture and History on the Silver Screen.

Yancey Red Corn photographed by Charlie Neuenschwander.

Yancey Red Corn shot for 405 Magazine's Person of Interest, May issue 2024. Photographed by Charlie Neuenschwander.

Oklahoma actor and Osage elder Yancey Red Corn appeared in two critically acclaimed pieces of media in 2023: a brief role in the show “Reservation Dogs” and in the film Killers of the Flower Moon as Chief Bonnicastle, a historical figure who helps get the federal government to investigate the murders of the Osage people. Both the television show and the movie were filmed in Oklahoma. 

Red Corn was born in 1963 just outside Pawnee and made his first foray into acting in 2012. Encouraged by friends, he auditioned for the play One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest with the Oklahoma City Theater Company and won the part of Chief Bromden. “I had watched the movie and read the book,” he said of his first acting role, “but I didn’t realize how many lines I would have in the play. But I worked hard and my fellow actors were wonderful to work with. It was a great experience that prepared me for Killers of the Flower Moon.”

Yancey Red Corn photographed by Charlie Neuenschwander.

Red Corn even has familial ties to the historical story: His ancestry includes a great-grandfather who was poisoned during the era when the Osage people were dying mysteriously after the oil boom made them wealthy. 

Yancey’s father Charles wrote the book A Pipe for February, a book that Martin Scorsese read in preparation for the movie and mentioned at the Cannes Film Fest. “The book was about how the Osage managed to hold on to as much of their culture and traditions as possible during that dark time,” said Red Corn. “David Grann also read it and spent a week with my father while he was alive. The opening scene of the movie was directly from the prologue of A Pipe for February.”

Yancey Red Corn shows off book cover written by his father, "A Pipe for February". Photo by Charlie Neuenschwander.
Yancey Red Corn shows off book cover written by his father, “A Pipe for February”. Photo by Charlie Neuenschwander.

At Cannes and at the Oscars, Red Corn wore his traditional Osage Naming Blanket over his tuxedo. He said, “I wanted to show respect to all our Osage tribal members. I was there with my cousin Tahlee, who was also in the film, and we wore them like the old chiefs would wear them. And we had some people tell us, ‘I wish my grandmother was alive to see that because you two represented the Osage tribe and you represented us well.’ I had a lot of people thank me for it.” He laughed and added, “I also appreciated that I was #27 on GQ’s Best Dressed on the Red Carpet.”

When asked about the effects the movie Killers of the Flower Moon has had on a wider audience, Red Corn replied, “Other actors and directors saw our movie at Cannes, and I was approached several times by filmmakers from other countries. At breakfast one morning, a director from an African country came up to me and said, ‘I saw your movie last night, and I want you to know that it is my story too. It is what colonialism has done to my country.’ I’m so glad that the film was shown internationally. It really rang a bell with Indigenous people internationally. It made me feel good that I was a part of the film.”

Interested in learning about another Oklahoma story that made the silver screen? Check out this feature on ‘Tulsa King’, starring Sylvester Stallone.