Lily Gladstone, first Native American actress nominee, travels to Osage country to honor Oscar nod

By Jocelyn Noveck

Lily Gladstone knew she wanted to be somewhere special when the Oscar news came. And that somewhere was not home, watching on TV, but in Oklahoma with the Osage community, where the real-life version of her character lived and where Martin Scorsese’s “Killers of the Flower Moon” is centered.

“I decided that I wanted to be on the Osage reservation, should this news come in today,” Gladstone said in an interview shortly after receiving her historic nomination for best actress, the first Native American so honored. “I wanted to be as close to Mollie Kyle and her family as I could be. So I’m here in Pawhuska, Oklahoma. Once things wrap up, I think I’m gonna load up and drive out to Fairfax and Gray Horse and pay my respects there.”

Meanwhile Gladstone’s parents were FaceTiming her as the nominations were announced. She asked them not to show her the TV screen, but instead to focus on their own faces.

“’Flip the camera around,’” she says she told her mother. “’I want to see your and dad’s reactions!’ And sure enough, I could kind of hear them starting to say my name, but then it just got drowned out by my parents cheering, and my dog started barking.”

Gladstone’s nomination was hardly a surprise. The accolades for the 37-year-old actor’s performance have been flowing since the film came out in October, and she won a Golden Globe earlier this month. She’s had both time and opportunity to articulate what feels historic about this moment, and remains just as passionate.

“It’s what I’ve been saying this whole time and I still absolutely feel it,” she said. “It happens to be that I’m carrying this honor right now … (but) it’s all so long overdue. It’s a real moment of restoration, placing Indigenous talent in these roles, spotlighting their humanity. … I think it is shattering a lot of stereotypes people have about Indigenous women, particularly Native American women.”

“We’re taking our place where we belong,” she said of Indigenous actors and storytellers. “And it’s taken a long time to get here. But it’s so necessary.”

Gladstone, who grew up between Seattle and the Blackfeet Reservation in Montana, and learned the Osage language for the film, added that the recognition comes “in a time where across the country, stories like this are getting buried, are being considered too woke.” So she is gratified, she said, “to be in a film that cements this history in the public eye, that makes it accessible for people to see, to get inside of in a way that only film can bring you inside of, as brutal as it can be, as heartbreaking and challenging as it can be.”

“Killers of the Flower Moon,” adapted from David Grann’s real-life whodunit of the same name, focuses more than the book did on the relationship between Mollie and her husband, Ernest Burkhart (Leonardo DiCaprio), who loves her but somehow also participates in a sinister plot with his uncle (Robert De Niro , also nominated ) to eliminate her family and acquire their oil-rich land.

But Gladstone pointed out that the film was not only about what she called the “horrible, complicated, skewed love” between Mollie and Ernest. It is also, she said, about “the love that Mollie and her community had for each other. The one that carries everybody forward.”

“We carry forward by passing our stories forward, by passing our sense of self and our knowledge forward, by adapting and growing,” she said. “So having the story be passed forward on such a massive scale, I hope it just ignites a curiosity that maybe wasn’t there before for most people.”

Whatever happens at the Oscars, Gladstone’s upward trajectory has been swift. So what is next for her?

“I’ve got some great things that I can announce soon,” she said. “Some other things that I’ve been ruminating on for years with collaborators, with incredible filmmakers. And now there’s definitely more green lights for those stories to progress. I’m just so incredibly blessed being a working actor, period. So to even make a living doing what I love feels like an immense win.”

Gladstone added she was “really excited for anything that’s to come from it. As an actor and then, how I can help get other stories told that deserve to be out there. A lot of marginalized stories, and particularly in Indian country.”

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