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Wichita State's independent, student-run news source

The Sunflower

‘Something I won’t ever forget’: Wichita musician represents his heritage on the big screen

Photo courtesy of AJ Harvey
AJ Harvey on the set of “Killers of the Flower Moon,” which was filmed in Oklahoma during 2021.

A musician since the age of 16, Wichita-raised AJ Harvey didn’t expect to be acting in a movie alongside Martin Scorsese, Robert De Niro and Leonardo DiCaprio.

Of Ponca and Pawnee heritage, Harvey and his two younger sisters grew up participating in the music and dance of the Indigenous tradition. Harvey’s Osage blood comes from his mother’s side, with his father’s side having relations with the North Dakotan tribes of the Hidatsa and Arikara.

As a young adult, Harvey added an impressive experience to his career in the arts when he was cast as Charles Whitehorn in Scorsese’s most recent box office hit, “Killers of the Flower Moon”.

This wasn’t Harvey’s original plan. He and his sister first auditioned to be extras at the suggestion of their mother. A year after driving to Oklahoma and back for the casting call, which included standing in a six-hour line, Harvey received a call on his way home from work in Wichita.

“I got a call from an LA area code. And I’m thinking what everyone else thinks. ‘Okay, this is a telemarketer. This is a scam,’” Harvey said. “I went ahead and picked it up, and they said, ‘Hi, we’re from Apple Productions. You did an open casting call last year for ‘Killers of the Flower Moon.’ Would you still be interested?’”

Harvey said at first he thought he was being asked to play an extra.

“And they said, ‘No, we actually want to have you read for a part,’” Harvey said. “I pulled over and was like is this for real?”

After confirming that this was, in fact, for real, Harvey submitted a self-taped audition and joined Scorsese’s cast. He was cast as Charles Whitehorn, an Osage man murdered in Oklahoma during the 1920s.

According to Harvey, the hot summer months of 2021 affected filming, cutting his time on set short — a total of two days. But Harvey didn’t let the heat stop him from making the most of the experience.

“Being on set was exactly what I had hoped it would be,” Harvey said. “I got the full cast treatment with my own small little trailer, my name on it with my costumes in there ready to go, what you see in the movies.”

When asked what his favorite memory from set was, Harvey recalled an impactful one-on-one with a certain Academy-Award-winning filmmaker.

“(Scorsese) had an assistant walk him out, and everyone got quiet. It was like the president of the United States was walking on set,” Harvey said. “You know, everyone shut up: Scorsese is on set. He had a little lens and a big Stetson cowboy hat on.”

Due to pandemic restrictions, Harvey’s interaction with Scorsese were limited to taking direction via walkie-talkie — until he unexpectedly got some face-to-face career advice from the director.

“He really got in-depth and was like, ‘It’s up to you. We can try whatever you want to, whatever feels comfortable because you know, you’re the one on camera,’” Harvey said, recalling the memory. “That’s something I won’t ever forget.”

Harvey revealed a relation to the real Charles Whitehorn, which he uncovered after speaking to an aunt on his mother’s side. This surprising connection made the role, no matter how short the screen time, a source of pride for Harvey.

“I got to put a face to his name and his story,” Harvey said.

For Harvey, “Killers of the Flower Moon” does more than tell the story it is based on.

“This is the most seen I’ve felt as an Indigenous person,” Harvey said. “To see our small ways, down to even our namings. To see Robert De Niro speaking full Osage on a big screen was pretty incredible.”

Harvey said that when he watched the movie in theaters with his loved ones, seeing the Indigenous practices he was raised participating in on-screen was a moment of recognition he thinks many Indigenous viewers will appreciate. He points out a scene where Molly (Lily Gladstone) refers to the practice of staying quiet when a storm rolls through.

“Everybody in our row looked around. We’re like, that’s what we heard growing up, you know, storms are coming through. That’s our grandpa’s needing some time … They’re talking,” Harvey said. “So to see something like that expressed in this movie, even for just a small second. It was like an Easter egg for everybody who comes from this.”

With media like “Killers of the Flower Moon” and “Reservation Dogs” trending, Harvey said he hopes for a wider scope of Native American representation in future stories.

“We’re more than just what happened to us in the 1920s,” Harvey said. “There are stories that need to be told and need to be seen. I think with ‘Killers of the Flower Moon’ being released almost 100 years (after) all of this was taking place — I think we’re in a prime time now for these stories to be out there.”

Harvey plans on continuing his career in the arts on and off screen, with a special focus on developing his music.

“Being an Indigenous singer, songwriter, there’s not very many people out there on the mainstream that are doing that,” Harvey said. “I hope that I can be a small part of that and what’s to come in the future.”

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About the Contributor
Salsabila Attaria
Salsabila Attaria, Arts and Culture Editor
Salsabila Attaria is the arts and culture editor for The Sunflower. Attaria is a health science major.  She previously worked as a reporter and assistant news editor. She uses she/her pronouns.

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  • S

    S. HarveyDec 4, 2023 at 6:24 pm

    Good article. Impressed with how relatable he was to the film. Believe he might have been the only Wichitan in the movie. And he graduated from Wichita Southeast.

  • R

    RunwaNov 30, 2023 at 1:40 pm

    Loved this so much!