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'We've already won': Lily Gladstone speaks on cultural recognition ahead of 2024 Oscars

Lily Gladstone via Zoom
Posted at 7:50 PM, Mar 08, 2024

BILLINGS — The Oscars are this Sunday and one of Montana’s very own will be in attendance, potentially making history for the second time this year.

Lily Gladstone, who grew up in Browning, impressed the academy with her performance in Martin Scorsese’s "Killers of the Flower Moon".

Lily Gladstone via Zoom
Lily Gladstone via Zoom

"It's definitely a shared moment," Gladstone told MTN News in a recent interview. "And hopefully just the beginning."

Things were much different 51 years ago at the Oscars.

“It is pretty remarkable that 50 years ago was that moment," said Gladstone. "That first calling out of how Natives are represented in the media."

In 1973, Marlon Brando was honored with the award for Best Actor in a Leading Role for his performance in "The Godfather". In a powerful move, Sacheen Littlefeather, an Apache woman, spoke on his behalf and rejected the award due to the way Native Americans were represented in film and media.

Sacheen Littlefeather rejecting Brando's award
Sacheen Littlefeather rejecting Brando's award

"I'm representing Marlon Brando this evening, and he has asked me to tell you in a very long speech, which I cannot share with you presently because of time but I will be glad to share with the press afterwards. That he very regretfully cannot accept this very generous award," Littlefeather said. "And the reasons for this being are the treatment of American Indians today by the film industry."

Littlefeather was met with anger and boos from the crowd. As the president of the National Native American Affirmative Image Committee, Littlefeather spoke about hopes for the future.

Watch her speak here.

"I beg at this time that I have not intruded upon this evening. And that...in the future, our hearts and our understandings will meet with love and generosity," said Littlefeather.

Now, five decades later, Gladstone is making history.

"Not only am I stepping out right now, but I’m stepping out in (the) community of so many other people that are just popping off,” said Gladstone.

Lily Gladstone on a Zoom with MTN Reporter Kelsey Boggs
Lily Gladstone on a Zoom with MTN Reporter Kelsey Boggs

Gladstone is the first Native American woman nominated for the Oscar for Best Actress in a Leading Role.

"It’s a lot of spotlight and it’s a lot of attention for one person to carry. It’s a lot of representation to fall on one person,” Gladstone said. "I’m really, really thankful that...I’m not stepping onto this global stage alone. There’s a lot of other Native actors out there telling a lot of other stories that people are really, really invested in and excited about."

Gladstone grew up on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation and graduated from the University of Montana. She was the first Indigenous person to win a Golden Globe this January. She was thrilled to see reactions across Indian Country following the win.

Gladstone during her Golden Globe acceptance speech
Gladstone during her Golden Globe acceptance speech

"This sweet TikTok video that got sent to me. Miss Bird’s kindergarten class in Browning and then all of these kids you know, speaking the language and introducing themselves and saying what their dreams are,” Gladstone said. "To watch, just in the home, this Blackfeet family. I think Dakota Runningcrane’s family. Watching it together. And then everybody just screaming and going nuts when I won."

Gladstone was praised following her Golden Globes acceptance speech, in which she spoke her native language and gave a shout-out to ‘Every little Rez kid'.

"I had no idea the kind of impact it would have to just do the bare minimum of language that I could, you know?” said Gladstone. "It’s like, you grow up and then like, one of the first things that you're taught to say in your language is who you are. Who you come from. I’ve made it practice, in particularly introductions and news circles, to just do that. It’s important."

She’s now being recognized for her performance in "Killers of the Flower Moon" at the Oscars.

"I’ve kind of joked for years, just like, if that ever happens to me, maybe I’ll send Marlon Brando’s kids up on stage to accept for me or something. Accept on behalf of Brando,” Gladstone joked. "It was an incredibly important thing that that be called out back then and it was one of those breakthrough moments. Because it did kind of affect how you saw us."

Lily Gladstone in 'Killers of the Flower Moon'
Lily Gladstone in 'Killers of the Flower Moon'

She says the recognition is a win in itself and hopes it’s just the start for Native actors.

"'True Detective' wrapped up with Kali Reis leading. Reviving this interest in Marvel with 'Echo' with Alaqua Cox leading. And then so many incredible Native talents... that have been at it for years,” Gladstone said. "It’s very much a shared moment in that sense."

A shared moment that will be remembered for decades to come.

"It is another huge milestone in history to even have this nomination. But I’m carrying this nomination right now, whatever comes out of March 10, whatever happens that day. It’s already a win," Gladstone said. "All of you Native kids just who have a spark and an interest in this. It’s like, really, you’re next.”

The Oscars air at 5 p.m. Sunday on ABC.

To learn more about Gladstone's Golden Globe, click here.