Lily Gladstone arrives at the Oscars on Sunday, March 10,...

Lily Gladstone arrives at the Oscars on Sunday, March 10, 2024, at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. Credit: AP/John Locher

LOS ANGELES — The Academy Awards were full of sure-things, long-awaited anointments and easy predictions. The “Oppenheimer” romp. Ryan Gosling’s Ken stealing the show. That put even more focus on the category that was hardest to call: best actress.

When Emma Stone was announced as the winner, a ceremony light on surprise got a genuine shock, perfectly illustrated by Stone’s stunned expression. Stone’s win, for her sensational performance in “Poor Things,” was hard not to cast as a defeat for Lily Gladstone. The “Killers of the Flower Moon” actress had been picked by most prognosticators and — as everyone knew — history hung in the balance. Her win would have been the first for a Native American in the nearly century-long history of the Oscars.

It was a difficult to define result. It wasn't quite an upset — Stone’s performance, equally favored, was too good to call it that. But it still stung, particularly for Native Americans watching across the country – a community that has watched Hollywood for most of its existence overlook its stories and performers.

One thing you couldn’t call it, though, was a loss for Gladstone.

“Lily Gladstone has undeniably left an indelible mark, breaking barriers and inspiring countless individuals with her remarkable presence and commitment to storytelling,” cheered Blackfoot Confederacy, a Tribal Council for the Blackfoot Confederacy Nations of Kainai-Blood Tribe, Siksika, Peigan-Piikani and Aamskapi Pikuni.

“Her representation is a source of pride for the Blackfoot Confederacy, The Osage Nation, and all indigenous communities, resonating far beyond the confines of a single ceremony.”

Throughout awards season, Gladstone has been a figure of rare grace, speaking eloquently on behalf of her tribe, the Osage, Native American representation and Hollywood history. More than any other nominated performer on Sunday night, she carried the hopes and dreams of a people.

Emma Stone accepts the award for best performance by an...

Emma Stone accepts the award for best performance by an actress in a leading role for "Poor Things" during the Oscars on Sunday, March 10, 2024, at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. Credit: AP/Chris Pizzello

“This is for every little rez kid,” Gladstone said accepting her Golden Globe award in January. “Every little urban kid, every little Native kid out there who has a dream, who is seeing themselves represented and our stories told by ourselves in our own words, with tremendous allies and tremendous trust with and from each other.”

Gladstone, born in Montana and raised in the Blackfeet Nation, was the first Indigenous performer to win that award, for best actress in a drama – just one of the many “firsts” that she achieved leading up to the Oscars. She likewise made history at the Screen Actors Guild Awards, where she won best female actor in a leading role. Those wins — along with the devastating empathy and poise of her performance in “Killers of the Flower Moon” — were more than enough to leave many cheering Gladstone’s milestone accomplishments.

“Lily Gladstone, you already won,” Peggy Flanagan, Minnesota’s Lieutenant Governor and a member of the White Earth Band of Ojibwe, wrote on X. “You bring all of us into every room you enter. We see ourselves in you every day – thank you for taking us along on this journey with you. We can dream bigger than we ever thought because of you.”

Gladstone’s SAG award was a big reason some expected her to win at the Oscars. It’s the most predictive awards for acting prizes. All of the other SAG winners — Cillian Murphy, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, Robert Downey Jr. — won Sunday. In the two previous years, the SAG winners have exactly matched those at the Academy Awards.

This image released by Apple TV+ shows Lily Gladstone, center,...

This image released by Apple TV+ shows Lily Gladstone, center, in a scene from "Killers of the Flower Moon." Credit: AP

But Stone also won at the BAFTAs and at the Globes, where “Poor Things” was slotted into the comedy or musical categories. At the Oscars, it was clear academy voters were more passionate about “Poor Things” than “Killers of the Flower Moon.” “Poor Things” took home four awards, second most to “Oppenheimer,” while “Killers of the Flower Moon” was shut out.

Martin Scorsese could be seen consoling Gladstone after the ceremony ended. The 81-year-old director knows something about Oscar disappointment. Scorsese, remarkably, has won only one Academy Awards (for directing “The Departed”), and he’s sat through numerous ceremonies only to see his much-nominated films – including “Taxi Driver,” “Gangs of New York,” “The Wolf of Wall Street” and “The Irishman” – leave with nothing. His last two features have gone 0-for-20 at the Academy Awards, easily a record.

Working against Gladstone’s favor may have been that she’s on screen for closer to a third of the film’s lengthy running time. Some felt she should have competed in best supporting actress. Meanwhile, Stone’s performance was a more traditional leading one. With two Oscars in five nominations, the 35-year-old Stone is among the most universally beloved actors working today.

“I think I blacked out,” Stone said in the press room backstage. “Yes, I was very shocked. I still feel like I’m spinning a little bit. So yes, it’s a huge honor and I’m very surprised.”

Awards season context, though, means only so much to a Native American community that, after decades almost totally absent of the Academy Awards, had prepared for a historical moment.

Dallas Goldtooth, a Sioux actor and regular on “Reservation Dogs,” wrote on X: “How do you say ‘robbed’ in Blackfoot?”

“Asking for a friend,” added Goldtooth. “Just kidding, I’m asking for myself.”

Lucas Brown Eyes, an Oglala Lakota TV writer, was frustrated not just by Gladstone not winning but by this being the only real chance Native Americans have had.

“It took 95 YEARS for a Native (Blackfeet) woman to get a nomination like this,” wrote Brown Eyes. “The ‘make up’ Oscar doesn’t work for Natives when this industry gives Natives opportunities once in a century.”

One actor, even one as good as Gladstone, isn’t enough to turn a tide that Native Americans have been beating back for as long as they’ve been in movies. The celebratory moment for Native people, in the end, came earlier in the Oscar ceremony, in a performance of collective power. Scott George, the first Native American nominated for best song, performed “Wahzhazhe (A Song for My People)” with the Osage Tribal Singers. More than a dozen singers and dancers surrounded a close-knit drum circle of nine tribal musicians.

At an awards ceremony that so often isolates artists, it was a rousing display of communal connection, sounded through ancient rhythms. And it recalled what Wes Studi said while receiving an honorary Oscar in 2019. Studi, the great Cherokee actor whose breakout character in “Dances With Wolves” was listed nameless only as “Toughest Pawnee," is still the only Native American with an Academy Award.

“I won’t say how long it’s taken me to do this,” said Studi then. “I can only say that the journey has been peopled by many.”


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