Lily Gladstone on Kansas City Chiefs Tomahawk Chop & Native Americans

“Killers of the Flower Moon” star Lily Gladstone embraces her monumental responsibility as an Oscar nominee, utilizing her platform to advocate for the Indigenous community and hoping to pave the way for more actors like herself.

During a panel conversation at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival’s Virtuosos Awards, Gladstone — of Siksikaitsitapi and Niimiipuu heritage — addressed the harmful depictions and references to Indians in media, notably mentioning the Kansas City Chiefs the day before their Super Bowl win.

“Honestly, you could hold both teams accountable,” Gladstone tells Variety. “The 49ers are based on the California Gold Rush, which was an incredibly brutal time for California Indians. And then the Chiefs. There are many ways that you could interpret the name ‘chief.’ It’s not the name that bothers me. It’s hearing that damn Tomahawk chop. Every time, it’s a stark reminder of what Hollywood has done to us, because the Tomahawk chop directly ties to the sounds of old Westerns where we were not playing ourselves, or if we were, we were merely backdrop actors. It’s this ‘claiming’ of that sound and saying it’s in ‘honor’ and the commodification of who we are as people. It’s great to love the game and your players, but it still hurts.”

On this episode of the Variety Awards Circuit Podcast, Gladstone discusses her historic Oscar nomination, her next project with director Reed Morano and who she’s bringing with her to the Academy Awards ceremony. Listen below.

Lily Gladstone as Mollie Burkhart, Leonardo DiCaprio as Ernest Burkhart (Apple TV+ /Courtesy Everett Collection)
©Apple TV/Courtesy Everett Collection

Based on David Grann’s 2017 non-fiction book “Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI,” the film recounts the tragic true story of the Osage tribe members murdered under suspicious circumstances during the 1920s. The film itself received 10 Oscar nominations, including best picture, director, actress (Gladstone), supporting actor (Robert De Niro), production design (Jack Fisk, Adam Willis), cinematography (Rodrigo Prieto), costume design (Jacqueline West), film editing (Thelma Schoonmaker), original score (posthumously Robbie Robertson), and original song (“Wahzhazhe [A Song for My People]” by Scott George).

Gladstone is the first Native American woman to be nominated for best actress at the Academy Awards for her significant role as Osage woman and historical figure Mollie Burkhart in Martin Scorsese’s epic. In addition to winning the most critics’ awards this season, she also picked up the Golden Globe for best actress (drama) and is nominated for the Screen Actors Guild Award.

Hours after the Oscars nominee luncheon, an elated Gladstone shared her experience: “They sat me between Christopher Nolan and Martin Scorsese. Talk about imposter syndrome. I also exchanged numbers with Annette Bening. No big deal.”

Lily Gladstone (Photographed by Art Streiber at the Hotel Bel Air on January 6, 2024 for Variety.)
Art Streiber for Variety

The significance of her Oscar nomination became real upon seeing the acquisition announcement for her next film, “Fancy Dance,” which premiered at Sundance. “That was a great Christmas gift,” she tells Variety. “But seeing it in print, ‘Academy Award Nominee,’ was the first time it really sank in.”

Gladstone, 37, reminisced about her teenage years, when she first saw Leonardo DiCaprio movies — such as “This Boy’s Life” and “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape” — noting her awe during their first scene together. Despite her initial nervousness and attempt to maintain a professional distance, she found a friend in DiCaprio. Their first scene together was when Ernest and Mollie have their first date and she invites him into her home. “My hands were shaking the whole time,” she says. “That was day one folks.”

Yet, Gladstone remains conscious that her career milestone comes amidst the backdrop of the Osage Tribe’s loss of culture and innocence—a story her film poignantly tells. She honors the spirits of those who lived through the trauma, emphasizing the importance of remembering without constantly reminding them of their suffering.

As she prepares for the historic moment at the Oscars, Gladstone is not only bringing her parents but also sharing this significant occasion with members of the Osage community, celebrating this achievement together.

Also on this episode, Tony McNamara discusses writing “Poor Things” for star and producer Emma Stone, working with Yorgos Lanthimos and how he was able to adapt the book by Alasdair Gray.

Read: Variety’s Awards Circuit for the latest Oscars predictions in all categories.

Variety’s “Awards Circuit” podcast, hosted by Clayton Davis, Jenelle Riley, Jazz Tangcay, Emily Longeretta and Michael Schneider, who also produces, is your one-stop source for lively conversations about the best in film and television. Each week, “Awards Circuit” features interviews with top film and TV talent and creatives, discussions and debates about awards races and industry headlines, and much more. Subscribe via Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify or anywhere you download podcasts. New episodes post weekly.

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