Lily Gladstone Is Making History This Awards Season

Learn more about the 'Killers of the Flower Moon' star and first-time Oscar nominee.

Lily Gladstone attends the "Killers Of The Flower Moon" photocall at the 76th annual Cannes film festival
(Image credit: Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images)

Lily Gladstone has made Oscars history. The breakout star of Martin Scorsese's latest epic Killers of the Flower Moon received her much-anticipated Academy Awards' nod for Lead Actress, making her the first ever Native woman of American descent to be nominated in the category. While other Indigenous actresses have received noms before, including Whale Rider star Keisha Castle-Hughes and Roma star Yalitza Aparicio, Gladstone makes history as the first Indigenous woman from the U.S. to receive the honor.

Gladstone is the formidable heart of the Apple TV+ film which is based on the 2017 book of the same name and chronicles a string of murders among the oil-rich Indigenous community in 1920s Osage County, Oklahoma. The actress plays Mollie Burkhart, an Osage woman who is determined to bring national attention to the killings of her family and friends, even as her own health fails.

Gladstone was in the Osage Nation when she heard the news of her nomination, speaking to Entertainment Weekly about the historic moment.

"I always say this, but [the honor]’s not fully mine," she said. "It belongs to so many people: the Osage Nation, the Blackfeet Nation, the Nez Perce Nation, every Indigenous actor whose shoulders I stand on. It’s circumstantial that I’m the first, and I’m so very grateful. I just know that I’m not going to be the last, not by a long shot."

If you want to learn more about the Oscar frontrunner, read on for a breakdown of Gladstone's early acting inspiration, her previous acclaimed roles, and her penchant for honoring Indigenous style on the red carpet.

She grew up in the Blackfeet Nation of Montana, and she was inspired to act by a 'Star Wars' character.

Gladstone was born in 1986 in Kalispell, Montana, and lived on the Blackfeet Reservation in Browning, Montana, until she was 10. Her father is of Piegan Blackfeet and Nez Perce heritage, and her mother is of European descent. She graduated from Mountlake Terrace High School, near Seattle, Washington, and got her acting start in school plays and youth theater. She later graduated from the University of Montana with a degree in Theater and a minor in Native American Studies.

In a 2012 interview, Gladstone cited a surprising inspiration for her acting career: the adorable, vicious Ewoks from the Star Wars franchise. "I loved the concept of living in tree houses, and I knew my only shot at being an Ewok was to become an actress," she shared.

She won 'Most Likely to Win an Oscar' in high school.

It turns out that Gladstone's high school classmates may have foreseen her awards run all the way back in 2004. In a since-resurfaced photo that went viral earlier this year, the Oscar nominee poses for her senior-year award: “Most Likely to Win an Oscar,” alongside her friend and fellow theater kid, Josh Ryder.

a woman (lily gladstone) and a man (josh ryder) pose with straight faces as he holds a wooden doll, with the drawing of an american gothic painting in the background

(Image credit: Edmonds School District)

Since the picture resurfaced, Ryder (who now co-owns a restaurant in the Seattle area) has publicly cheered on Gladstone. In an interview with The Daily Beast, the restauranteur revealed he's still close with the actress, and even shared some memories from their high school days.

"I first met Lily doing theater in high school. She and I were in a production of 'Our Town' by Thornton Wilder. Then, I think we did three productions together over the years. That’s where our friendship grew," he told the outlet. "For both of us, our people were weird theater kids. We both still probably gravitate to that community."

She was cast for 'Killers of the Flower Moon' after Scorsese saw her performance in 2016's 'Certain Women.'

Gladstone made her feature-film debut in the 2013 films Jimmy P: Psychotherapy of a Plains Indian and Winter in the Blood. Her breakout role was playing The Rancher in Kelly Reichardt's 2016 drama Certain Women, which earned her nominations from the Gotham Awards, the Film Independent Spirit Awards, and several critics' groups.

Killers of the Flower Moon director Martin Scorsese said in November 2023 that he knew Gladstone was perfect for his film after seeing her performance in Certain Women. "I couldn’t take my eyes off of her," he told the outlet. "Lily’s character was quiet, she spoke very little, but she commanded the screen with her presence, with every move, every gesture. There are very few actors around who know how to hold the screen like that, and it was perfect for the character of Mollie."

Gladstone's co-star Leonardo DiCaprio also praised her work on Flower Moon in a recent interview with The Hollywood Reporter. "Lily has amazing presence and strength," he told the outlet. "She spent months studying Mollie Burkhart and her family, working extensively to understand the intricacies of this woman, her relationship with Ernest and her legacy within the Osage community. As a Native actor, in a lot of ways, she became a source of guidance for all of us, Scorsese included, in terms of how we told the story."

four women wearing traditional osage nation blankets and fur hats sit in a circle

(Image credit: Apple TV+)

She was about to quit acting when she received the call about 'Killers of the Flower Moon.'

Per The Hollywood Reporter, the audition for Killers of the Flower Moon came during a challenging period for the actress. In August 2020, during a professional dry spell brought on by the COVID pandemic, she was considering quitting the entertainment industry. "You just wonder if it’s going to be sustainable," she told the outlet. "So I had my credit card out, registering for a data analytics course."

She told the outlet that she'd planned to apply for seasonal work with the Department of Agriculture, tracking the murder hornet surge (she is "a self-professed 'bee nerd'"). But as destiny would have it, while she was in the check-out process, she got an email notification requesting a Zoom meeting with Scorsese.

She gave her historic Golden Globes speech in the Blackfeet language.

Gladstone took home her first major award in January, when she won Best Actress in a Motion Picture - Drama at the 2024 Golden Globes. The actress began her acceptance speech by speaking in the Blackfeet language, an Algonquian language spoken by the Blackfoot or Niitsitapi people. She completed her speech in English, while emphasizing the importance of speaking the Indigenous language and showing love to the Native community.

"I love everyone in this room. I don't have words," she said. "I just spoke a bit of Blackfeet language, a beautiful community nation that raised me, that encouraged me to keep going, keep doing this here with my mom, who, even though she's not Blackfeet, worked tirelessly to get our language into our classroom so I had a Blackfeet language teacher growing up."

She continued, "I'm so grateful that I can speak even a little bit of my language, which I'm not fluent in, up here because, in this business, Native actors used to speak their lines in English and then the sound mixers would run them backwards to accomplish Native languages on camera."

"This [win] is a historic one. It doesn't belong to just me. I'm holding it right now. I'm holding it with all my beautiful sisters in the film at this table over here and my mother, Tantoo Cardinal, standing on all of your shoulders. Thank you," she added.

Lily Gladstone, winner of the Best Performance by a Female Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama award for "Killers of the Flower Moon," poses in the press room during the 81st Annual Golden Globe Awards

(Image credit: Amy Sussman/Getty Images)

After thanking Scorsese, her co-stars, Chief Standing Bear, and the Osage Nation, she added that her win is for "every little res kid, every little urban kid, every little Native kid out there who has a dream, who is seeing themselves represented in our stories told by ourselves in our own words with tremendous allies and tremendous trust from within from each other."

She promotes Indigenous designers on the red carpet.

Throughout Flower Moon's festival and awards run, Gladstone, along with her stylist Jason Remberthas, has showcased and supported Indigenous designers, primarily through her jewelry. So far she has worn pieces by designers including Lenise Omeasoo, Shelby LeeAnn Gorman, Jennifer Younger, Weomepe Designs, and El Techichi Jewelry. She has also nodded to Indigenous style with her hair, which she regularly wears in braids, paying homage to its spiritual and traditional significance in many tribes.

lily gladstone smiles as she boops her golden globe against her nose

(Image credit: John Salangsang/Golden Globes 2024/Golden Globes 2024 via Getty Images)

She uses both she and they pronouns, as "a way of decolonizing gender."

In a December 2023 interview with People, Gladstone revealed that her Indigenous heritage and childhood on the Blackfeet reservation led her to rethink gendered pronouns at an early age.

"I remember being 9 years old and just being a little disheartened, seeing how often a lot of my boy cousins were misgendered because they wore their hair long," she told the outlet. "It happens to a lot of kids, I think, especially Native boys leaving a community where long hair is celebrated [and then] just kind of getting teased for it. So I remember back then being like, Everybody should just be 'they.'"

The actor went on to explain that most Indigenous languages use only "they" pronouns, and that Blackfeet members' genders are "implied" in their name. She also noted that it's not meant to be binary, as Gladstone’s grandfather was named "Iron Woman" despite his gender because "he kind of carried himself, I guess, the way that women who have that name do."

"And there were lots of women historically and still now who are given men’s names," she continued. "They fulfill more of a man’s role in society as far as being provider, warrior, those sort of things. So, yeah, my pronoun use is partly a way of decolonizing gender for myself."

Quinci LeGardye
Contributing Culture Editor

Quinci LeGardye is a Contributing Culture Editor who covers TV, movies, Korean entertainment, books, and pop culture. When she isn’t writing or checking Twitter, she’s probably watching the latest K-drama or giving a concert performance in her car.