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A Season of Firsts for Lily Gladstone

With her Golden Globe earlier this year, Gladstone was the first Native American woman to win

By Maggie Doherty

Congratulations as wide and blue as the Big Sky herself for Lily Gladstone on her historic Oscar nomination for her breathtaking and heartbreaking performance in the film “Killers of the Flower Moon.” Born in Montana and raised on the Blackfeet reservation until age 11, she was awarded the prestigious Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild award for her role as Mollie Kyle, a character based on the real-life Mollie Burkhart, an Osage woman in Oklahoma during the 1920s. Legendary filmmaker Martin Scorsese based the film on David Grann’s acclaimed book, “Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI.”

Gladstone, however, did not win the Academy Award for Best Actress. To summarize a recent news headline the day after the Oscars Gladstone didn’t lose, either.

In her breakout performance as Mollie, she was predicted to win the category and if she had won it would have elevated an already historic awards season to another level. No Native American woman has won an Academy Award. With her Golden Globe earlier this year, Gladstone was the first Native American woman to win. As exciting as these firsts are, especially for the 37-year-old actor who graduated with a BFA in acting from the University of Montana, it’s also appalling that Hollywood has such an abysmal track record with rewarding Indigenous actors for their contributions to film. Between Gladstone’s mesmerizing performance as Mollie to her acceptance speeches at numerous award shows, where she speaks partially in Blackfeet, highlighting the talents of Indigenous designers and artists with her wardrobe, Gladstone offers an inspiring and impactful image across the country. She also demonstrates that Native Americans aren’t relegated to lives on reservations or into the distant past, confined to popular myth, largely lodged in the imagination by the likes of yes, you guessed it, Hollywood.

Off-screen, there is a worrisome impulse to ignore history, especially our cruel and violent past, whether that’s slavery or the violent and prejudiced treatment of Native Americans. The descendants of those horrors certainly don’t forget, and we owe it to them and to our country to reconcile, honor, and repair. If you watched the film, you might have sat breathless like I did, captivated by Gladstone’s monumental performance. The powerful emotions she captured without uttering one word – Gladstone did more with her eyes than many can do with pages and pages of dialogue, and I was once again, as I gracefully continue to be, humbled by the art and power of storytelling. As Mollie, Gladstone’s emotional rawness transcended the medium of the screen, bringing what Scorsese himself is quoted as saying as the “real heart” of the movie.

It was a season of historic firsts for Gladstone but I’m betting it won’t be her last.