Lily Gladstone needs only two words to describe Paramount's runaway hit show Yellowstone: "Delusional! Deplorable!"
The 37-year-old Native American actress plays a central role in Martin Scorsese's latest movie epic, Killers of the Flower Moon. But Gladstone wasn't always able to pick and choose the parts she took on in Hollywood — and that's why she understands why so many of her peers have ended up on Taylor Sheridan's violent Western soap opera.
"No offense to the Native talent in that," Gladstone said in a recent New York magazine interview. "I auditioned several times. That's what we had."
Theo Wargo/Getty Lily Gladstone
Although television has seen a recent surge in Indigenous stories featuring Indigenous actors, often from Indigenous creators — look to the critical darling Reservation Dogs and the two-season comedy Rutherford Falls as examples — these voices have historically been absent from mainstream media. In the 2019-2020 television season, Native characters accounted for 1 percent of all roles, while 1.1 percent of working TV staff writers were Native.
Sheridan, who is white, calls almost all the shots on Yellowstone, which stars Kevin Costner as wealthy rancher John Dutton, who's locked in a constant battle to keep his land and his family safe from outside forces.
The series has been criticized for depictions of violence against Indigenous women — who experience proportionally higher rates of violence and murder — as well as for white appropriation of Native spiritual practices and questions over the authenticity of the Indigenous heritage claimed by Kelsey Asbille, who plays one of the show's most prominent Native American characters.
Paramount Network Kevin Costner on 'Yellowstone'
Gladstone told New York that she was nervous about accepting the part as Leonardo DiCaprio's wife in Killers of the Flower Moon since the story documents a dark, gruesome page in Osage history, but a script rewrite turned the narrative from a white-savior story into one that centers on the experiences of the Indigenous characters. In addition, Scorsese sought out input from the Osage community, which cemented Gladstone's decision to take on the role.
"It was clear that I wasn't just going to be given space to collaborate," said Gladstone, whose father is Blackfeet and Nez Perce and whose mother is white. "I was expected to bring a lot to the table."
Based on the 2017 book by David Grann, Killers of the Flower Moon is expected to be a shoo-in the upcoming awards season. The film opens in theaters Oct. 20, with a streaming debut on Apple TV+ to follow at an undetermined date. The change from its earlier limited theatrical release and streaming premiere on Oct. 6 may be because its high-profile cast — which also includes Robert De Niro and Jesse Plemons — is prohibited from doing press and red carpet events during the actors' strike.
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