The Problem Isn’t Lily Gladstone’s Oscar Loss — It’s What Comes Next

Lily Gladstone Oscar loss art by Autostraddle, photo by John Shearer/WireImage via Getty Images

Last night, Lily Gladstone lost the Oscar for Best Actress, in what would have been a landmark win for Indigenous people, queer people, and people with good taste in acting.

They would have been the first Indigenous person to win Best Actress in either the leading or supporting categories. And they would have been the first out LGBTQ+ actor to win either lead acting category. And yet plenty of other people have won acting awards for movies centered around Indigenous people and queer people. In fact, in this very category, Gladstone, a queer actor, nominated for playing a straight character lost to Emma Stone, a straight actor playing a queer character — a queer character whose queerness is the most underwritten aspect of her character.

Discussing firsts can be helpful in addressing the systemic exclusion of institutions like the Academy of Motion Pictures. But, as we’ve learned, one nomination or even one award often does not signal tangible change. And so I’m disappointed Gladstone didn’t win for the historic reasons, but I’m mostly disappointed because she is a uniquely talented performer who deserved the recognition.

For cinephiles and lesbians alike, this moment of fame and celebration for Gladstone is overdue. Their performance in Kelly Reichardt’s Certain Women — alongside far more famous performers like Michelle Williams, Laura Dern, and scene partner Kristen Stewart — was the declaration of a new talent. That movie was released in 2016. The years that followed were not met with the opportunities often granted to straight white actors whose breakout role is in an indie from a renowned auteur with a 92% on Rotten Tomatoes that was released on home video by The Criterion Collection. In fact, Gladstone almost quit acting.

This year has marked a shift in her career. Not only her Oscar-nominated work in Martin Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon, but lead roles in last year’s The Unknown Country and the upcoming Fancy Dance. (Gladstone used an acceptance speech for Killers to campaign for Fancy Dance to get distribution. It worked.) She also made another memorable appearance in the final season of Reservation Dogs.

While their next project looks to be the kind of police procedural, award-nominated queer actors and actors of color are often limited to, other upcoming roles are more exciting. They’re reteaming with The Unknown Country director Morissa Maltz in Jazzy and working with director Reed Morano and writer Charlie Kaufman in an adaptation of Yōko Ogawa’s The Memory Police.

I hope these projects are worthy of Gladstone’s talents and that they continue to be offered a plethora of roles. But I keep thinking about how previous Indigenous Best Actress nominees Keisha Castle-Hughes (for Whale Rider) and Yalitza Aparicio (for Roma) have not been given the roles they deserve. I hoped Gladstone winning would make a difference, but maybe it wouldn’t have even mattered. After all, other recent historic winners like Troy Kotsur (who was the first deaf performer to win Best Actor) have also, so far, been let down by Hollywood. We can go even further back to Halle Berry’s win in 2002 for Monster’s Ball, a pivotal moment that nevertheless led to minimal change for Hollywood nor a significant boost to Berry’s frustrating career.

It’s worth noting that, like Monster’s Ball, Killers of the Flower Moon was written and directed by white men; Kotsur’s win was for a movie written and directed by a hearing woman. We need to keep pushing so these nominations and wins are just a beginning. Gladstone and Kotsur should get the roles they deserve. (And, honestly, Halle Berry still deserves better.) More Indigenous actors and queer actors and disabled actors should get the opportunity to make work with and be celebrated for work made by Indigenous and queer and disabled writers and directors.

Every year, the Academy Awards present themselves as a litmus test. What movies were made by or recognized by Hollywood last year? What artists does Hollywood deem worthy of celebration? Often, these awards lead to a boost in an artist’s career — but not always. And, less so, when the artist has a marginalized identity.

Gladstone’s loss tells a story about where the industry is at in its judgments of art and its desire for inclusion. But it doesn’t have to be the only story told. What matters now is what comes next.

I love Martin Scorsese and believe Killers of the Flower Moon to be a challenging and masterful film. And yet I hope Gladstone returns to the Oscars someday soon with a film made primarily by Indigenous people, made primarily by queer people. I hope in the time before that happens many other Indigenous and queer performers are nominated and celebrated and maybe even win. I hope the industry continues to change — not just for one night, for one award — but in ways that are tangible and long-lasting.

May we be gifted with the work of every artist as talented as Lily Gladstone.


Killers of the Flower Moon is now streaming on Apple TV+.

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Drew Burnett Gregory

Drew is a Brooklyn-based writer, filmmaker, and theatremaker. She is a Senior Editor at Autostraddle with a focus in film and television, sex and dating, and politics. Her writing can also be found at Bright Wall/Dark Room, Cosmopolitan UK, Refinery29, Into, them, and Knock LA. She was a 2022 Outfest Screenwriting Lab Notable Writer and a 2023 Lambda Literary Screenwriting Fellow. She is currently working on a million film and TV projects mostly about queer trans women. Find her on Twitter and Instagram.

Drew Burnett has written 567 articles for us.

4 Comments

  1. “Gladstone’s loss tells a story about where the industry is at in its judgments of art and its desire for inclusion. But it doesn’t have to be the only story told. What matters now is what comes next.”

    Every year I think I’ve learned my lesson enough to put the Academy Awards into a little box where these kinds of disappointments don’t sting, and every year they find a new way to hurt anyway.

  2. does hollywood owe anyone anything?
    isn’t its role to sell?
    i’m a gay indigenous woman and I don’t put my faith into capitalist film that must sell and sell to foreign markets that are far more conservative and racist. hello to anyone looking to distribute a film in Asia or the MENA region.

    lily gladstone will have a wonderful career and be inspiration to many of us. i have a rich culture outside of pop culture that doesn’t need validation from american capitalist structures

    the concept of a queer or PoC deserving, begging to be seen by a mainstream audience is a moot point. My land, my culture, my heritage doesn’t need the white mans blessing, or a wealthy colonizer Black or White or Brown. I find it patronizing coming from a white author who thinks we “deserve” something-we don’t need your blessing or you panhandling for our attention.

    what we need is solidarity – news making changes in our schools and medicine and water access. i will never ask for feed from the hand of the white man or the white queer author who speaks for us as if we were children. we can handle a loss from Emma Stone and understand why she won.

    Why do you ask what we deserve? why would you pursue as a white person for our own culture the vultures of american entertainment?

    american entertainment is not the end all be all and representation from a few native actors paid 6-7 figures doesn’t fix the real problems we have everyday.

  3. Gladstone and Stone had each won awards leading up to the Oscars. But one of Gladstone’s wins was SAG, the actors guild, which is the biggest voting bloc and so usually means an Oscar win.

    From what I’ve read, Stone’s win was powered by international voters, who really like the director – his previous film The Favourite also garnered a Best Actress win, for Olivia Colman.

    I saw KOTFW and was sorry Gladstone did not win, particularly since Stone (who I like) already has an Oscar. But I haven’t yet seen Poor Things, so I can’t truthfully judge at this point who the more deserving person is. I do know KOTFW would have been nothing without Gladstone – is there a MVP award?

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