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Lily Gladstone could make history if she wins an Oscar. She doesn't take it lightly

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The movie "Killers Of The Flower Moon," set in 1920s Oklahoma, shows the systematic murder of Osage people for their oil wealth. If Lily Gladstone wins an Oscar for her portrayal of the real-life Mollie Burkhart, she will be the first Native American actor to be so honored in the acting category. Lily Gladstone spoke about that and what might be next for her with Allison Herrera of APM Reports.

ALLISON HERRERA: I caught up with Lily Gladstone right before she was about to appear on a panel with director Martin Scorsese and Osage Nation principal chief Geoffrey Standing Bear. I introduced myself in Salinan, my native language.

(Speaking Salinan).

And Gladstone did the same in Blackfeet.

LILY GLADSTONE: (Speaking in Blackfoot).

My name is Lily Gladstone, Eagle Woman, and I'm from the Blackfoot Nation.

HERRERA: It's not lost on Gladstone that she's portraying an Indigenous woman on the big screen after decades of misrepresentation by Hollywood. She sees this movie, the awards and press around it as a chance to set the record straight and prove that this wasn't done without buy-in from the Osage people.

GLADSTONE: People learn history by watching movies. You know, our sense of history and culture is largely shaped by what we see on screen, so it just has to be constructed by both parties if it's a collaboration like this. And, really, there was so much in the film that - you know, it's credited to Marty and Eric - rightfully so - you know, the writers of what we have. But there's so much in the story that also just belongs to Osage.

HERRERA: That collaboration Gladstone is talking about between Martin Scorsese, screenwriter Eric Roth and the citizens of the Osage Nation led to presenting Mollie's character more front and center, instead of it being about the FBI and changing an early scene in the movie.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON")

LEONARDO DICAPRIO: (As Ernest Burkhart) You know, you got a nice color scheme. What color would you say that is?

GLADSTONE: (As Mollie Burkhart) My color.

HERRERA: Originally, this scene, in a rainstorm, ended with both characters drinking each other under the table. Gladstone said that wasn't who Mollie was.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON")

GLADSTONE: (As Mollie Burkhart) No. Don't close it. We need to be quiet for a while.

WILSON PIPESTEM: Here's a heavy storm. Why do we sit still during that?

HERRERA: Wilson Pipestem was one of the Osages Gladstone met with for her research. Pipestem, who's from the Gray Horse district where Mollie Burkhart and her family were from, had written a letter to Scorsese inviting him to a Gray Horse dinner to meet Osages and hear their concerns about the film. He helped Gladstone understand how Osage women would have acted at the time, repeating stories and advice his grandmother Rose had told him.

PIPESTEM: She said, well, you know Wah'Kon-Tah, our creator, is powerful, and the elements belong to God. If we act like there's no power in them and we just keep doing what we would do any day, something might happen to us. So we need to just sit quiet and show respect and pray - be prayerful and still.

HERRERA: Gladstone formed other relationships with Osages and drew upon their stories, women who would have been Mollie's contemporaries in the 1920s. One of them was Mollie's real-life granddaughter, Margie Burkhart.

GLADSTONE: A lot of my pacing, a lot of my gestural work, the dry sort of humor and, like, the awareness of him and what's going on, all of that came from my first interactions with Margie.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON")

DICAPRIO: (As Ernest Burkhart) They told me you was going with Matt Williams for a time.

GLADSTONE: (As Mollie Burkhart) You talk too much.

DANA DAYLIGHT: Oh, my gosh, she nailed it.

HERRERA: Dana Daylight noticed how Gladstone embodied Osage women in the movie. Daylight had a small part in the film, and she cooked all the food on screen. She says a scene where Mollie breaks down wailing after her sister Rita has been killed in a horrific house explosion was really authentic.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON")

GLADSTONE: (As Mollie Burkhart, yelling).

HERRERA: Wailing is an important cultural expression of grief Osage women practice. And Daylight said Gladstone just got it.

You felt it.

DAYLIGHT: I felt it because I've been there. I've done that. It was very real, and it really shook a lot of us.

HERRERA: Daylight is rooting for Gladstone to win an Oscar. She says it would feel right to reward such an accurate representation.

DAYLIGHT: She's showing the world, we're still here. We're alive. We're not living in a tepee by a stream. So, I mean, it's - by winning an Oscar, she's doing a lot for everybody. She - it's an inspiration.

HERRERA: For Gladstone, being a historic first is exciting, but it's something she says comes with some responsibility. She and others, like "Reservation Dogs" creator Sterlin Harjo, have kicked the door open. But now...

GLADSTONE: That also kind of means that now we just have to stand here and hold it open. Like, we can't just run through it because if you do that, the door closes behind you.

HERRERA: Gladstone acknowledges that Native people need to be able to tell their own stories. That criticism, along with the praise the film is getting, is a line Gladstone's been walking. Ultimately, she says, the success of the film comes down to trust between Scorsese and the Osage people. And this nomination, she says, it doesn't just belong to her.

GLADSTONE: At this point in history, because of this story, this filmmaker, the right people taking a gamble on changing the story away from, you know, an FBI story to, you know, this relationship piece brought Mollie front and center of it.

HERRERA: Osage citizens I've spoken to say they're so proud of Gladstone and the film. The Osage Congress even adopted a resolution endorsing her performance, as well as Osage singer Scott George, whose song for the film is also nominated. In their eyes, Gladstone and the film have already won.

For NPR News in Tulsa, Okla., I'm Allison Herrera.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MUSICAL ARTISTS: (Singing in non-English language). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Allison Herrera
Allison Herrera joined KOSU in November 2015, after serving as the editor of the award-winning online publication the Twin Cities Daily Planet.

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