Native American characters have been depicted in the movies since the dawn of Hollywood, but in 2024 an actual Native American actor has finally been nominated for an Academy Award.
Lily Gladstone (Blackfeet/Nimiipuu) has been a frontrunner all season for her performance in Martin Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon, and on Tuesday morning she officially became a best actress Oscar nominee. Her predecessors in the category include Whale Rider’s Keisha Castle-Hughes (who is Maori) in 2004 and Roma’s Yalitza Aparicio (who is Native Mexican) in 2019, while other Indigenous nominated actors include Graham Greene (who is First Nations), nominated for best supporting actor in 1991 for Dances With Wolves, but Gladstone is the first Native American acting nominee.
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With 1983 best song winner Buffy Sainte-Marie’s ancestry now in dispute, Gladstone could also now be tied for the first Native American Oscar nominee in any category. (Sainte-Marie was raised by a white family in New England and claims to have been adopted out of a First Nations reserve in Canada, but a CBC documentary in October alleged she actually was born to the American family.) Killers’ late composer, Robbie Robertson, who was Canadian by nationality but whose mother was Cayuga and Mohawk, received a nomination for best score Tuesday morning.
Just as Michelle Yeoh’s historic nomination for best actress last year came 85 years after the Academy nominated a white woman for playing an Asian character, Gladstone’s nomination comes 73 years after Jeff Chandler, who was not Native, received an Oscar nomination for playing the Apache leader Cochise in 1950’s Broken Arrow. Hollywood has a long tradition of redface, with screen legends also taking part (Rock Hudson in Winchester ’73, Burt Lancaster in Apache, Kirk Douglas in The Indian Fighter and Audrey Hepburn in The Unforgiven).
In Killers of the Flower Moon, Gladstone plays Mollie Burkhart, an Osage woman married to a key accomplice in the systematic assassination of the Osage people in the 1920s. She first earned critical acclaim in Kelly Reichardt’s 2016 indie Certain Women, and her other credits include Reichardt’s First Cow, The Unknown Country (which she co-wrote), Fancy Dance and FX’s Reservation Dogs. Killers has catapulted Gladstone to a new status in the industry, and while picking up personal accolades at the Golden Globes, National Board of Review and the New York Film Critics Circle, she has remained a steadfast advocate of Native representation, using her Globes acceptance speech to educate on the Hollywood practice of inventing fake Native languages and supporting the decisions of other Native peoples to opt against viewing her film, whose depictions of violence against the Osage may be traumatizing.
Jan. 23, 7:31 a.m. Clarified that Castle-Hughes, Aparicio and Greene are a selection of previous Indigenous acting nominees and do not comprise the full list.
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