After winning a Golden Globe, Lily Gladstone has become a first-time Academy Award nominee for ‘Killers of the Flower Moon’
Oscar nominee Lily Gladstone may be a fresh face at Hollywood's awards ceremonies this season. But Killers of the Flower Moon is only the latest in a long line of strong performances from the Native American actress.
Gladstone, 37, has earned her first recognition from the Academy Awards — a history-making nomination — for playing the real-life Mollie Burkhart (née Kyle) in Martin Scorsese’s crime drama about the 1920s Osage Nation killings, co-adapted with Eric Roth from David Grann’s non-fiction book of the same name.
Read on to learn more about the first Native American to be nominated in the Oscars' Best Actress category.
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Gladstone grew up in the Blackfeet Nation of Montana
Born in 1986 in Kalispell, Montana, Gladstone spent her formative years on the Blackfeet Reservation in Browning, Montana. Her father is of Piegan Blackfeet and Nez Perce heritage, while her mother is of European descent.
When Gladstone won the Golden Globe Award for best actress in a motion picture - drama on Jan. 8, she became the first Indigenous woman to be nominated for and win an acting Globe. She did not take that historic moment lightly, opening her acceptance speech in Blackfeet, an Algonquian language spoken by the Blackfoot or Niitsitapi people.
“I just spoke a bit of Blackfeet language, a beautiful community nation that raised me, that encouraged me to keep going, keep doing this here with my mom, who, even though she's not Blackfeet, worked tirelessly to get our language into our classroom so I had a Blackfeet language teacher growing up," she said.
Inspired by the Ewoks in Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi, Gladstone began working in youth theater as a teenager in the Seattle area. She then graduated from the University of Montana with a degree in Acting/Directing and a Native American Studies minor.
She caught Scorsese’s attention with her breakout Certain Women performance
After making a film debut in 2012’s Jimmy P: Psychotherapy of a Plains Indian, Gladstone worked steadily until her breakout role as a rancher in Kelly Reichardt's 2016 hit Certain Women. The indie film, which costarred Kristen Stewart, Laura Dern and Michelle Williams, earned Gladstone recognition from the Film Independent Spirit Awards, Gotham Awards and multiple critics groups.
The performance also earned Scorsese’s approval. But Gladstone didn’t receive an email about working with the Oscar-winning director until she was ready to quit acting in 2020. “I had my credit card out, registering for a data analytics course,” she told The Hollywood Reporter ahead of Killers of the Flower Moon’s Cannes Film Festival premiere in May 2023.
Instead of applying for seasonal work at the Department of Agriculture and following a desire to study murder hornets as a self-professed “bee nerd,” Gladstone joined Scorsese and his on-screen muses Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro in recreating the Osage serial killings, one of American history’s darkest chapters.
“I couldn’t take my eyes off of her,” Scorsese told Variety of her performance in Certain Women. “Lily’s character was quiet, she spoke very little, but she commanded the screen with her presence, with every move, every gesture. There are very few actors around who know how to hold the screen like that, and it was perfect for the character of Mollie.”
DiCaprio told THR that Gladstone “became a source of guidance for all of us, Scorsese included, in terms of how we told the story” of Killers. He added that his costar “spent months studying Mollie Burkhart and her family, working extensively to understand the intricacies of this woman, her relationship with [my character] Ernest and her legacy within the Osage community.”
She is a vocal advocate for Native American representation — including in her style
She dedicated her “historic” Golden Globe win to “every little res kid, every little urban kid, every little Native kid out there who has a dream, who is seeing themselves represented in our stories told by ourselves in our own words with tremendous allies and tremendous trust from within from each other."
The actress continued her speech: "I'm so grateful that I can speak even a little bit of my language, which I'm not fluent in, up here. Because, in this business, Native actors used to speak their lines in English and then the sound mixers would run them backwards to accomplish Native languages on camera."
With the global spotlight on her, Gladstone has used the red carpet and media publicity to promote Indigenous designers, wear their clothes and jewelry and style herself in ways that honor her heritage.
Gladstone also goes by she/they, and has cited her pronoun use as “partly a way of decolonizing gender for myself” after growing up on the Blackfeet Reservation. “I remember being 9 years old and just being a little disheartened, seeing how often a lot of my boy cousins were misgendered because they wore their hair long,” she told PEOPLE in December.
“It happens to a lot of kids, I think, especially Native boys leaving a community where long hair is celebrated [and then] just kind of getting teased for it… So I remember back then being like, everybody should just be they.” Plus, she added, “in most Native languages, most Indigenous languages, Blackfeet included, there are no gendered pronouns. There is no he/she, there's only they.”
She will make her first-ever appearance at the Oscars
A first-time Oscar nomination is far from the only accolade Gladstone has received for her work as Mollie. In addition to the Golden Globe, she earned Critics Choice and Screen Actors Guild nominations as well as multiple honors from critics groups.
Outside of Killers of the Flower Moon, however, Gladstone has continued to make inroads in Hollywood. She won 2023’s Gotham Award for her leading role in The Unknown Country, and made acclaimed TV appearances in episodes of Billions and Reservation Dogs.
This March will mark the rising star’s first attendance of the Academy Awards. When nominations were announced Jan. 23, Gladstone became the fourth Indigenous woman nominated in the leading actress category, after Merle Oberon (The Dark Angel), Keisha Castle-Hughes (Whale Rider) and Yalitza Aparicio (Roma).
Killers, meanwhile, earned a total of 10 nominations, including for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Costume Design and Best Supporting Actor for De Niro.
The 96th Academy Awards, hosted by Jimmy Kimmel, will air live on Sunday, March 10, from the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, California, beginning at 7 p.m. ET.
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