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A Native American Oscar Nomination

The Academy Award nominations for 2024 were announced by the Motion Picture Academy last Tuesday. The Academy Awards or the Oscars are marked as the highest achievement in filmmaking. Among the nominees are a collection of first-time nominees and familiar faces for the award show. One stand-out is an actor named Lily Gladstone from Martin Scorsese’s “Killers of the Flower Moon.” The actor is Native American which is a first for the Oscars to do. In celebration of the moment, it makes sense to look back on the previous representation of Native Americans in film and how that makes Lily Gladstone’s nomination so important.

One of the biggest problems facing Native American representation in American media is the lack of representation. Laurel R. Davis-Delano, Jennifer   J. Folsom, Virginia McLaurin, Arianne E. Eason & Stephanie A. Fryberg did a study on Native American representations in media in 2021. They found that, “we found that many non-Native persons in the U.S. have not experienced memorable representations of Native Americans. Overall, our findings suggest U.S. culture socializes people to disregard Native Americans, except in a minimal sense as ‘a people of the past,’ and does not socialize people to recognize or understand contemporary Native Americans” (Davis-Delano, Folsom, McLaurin, Eason, and Fryberg). The study’s findings show that not only have non-native people in America seen memorable Native-American performances, but that the few performances are associated with the past, as if there is no idea of contemporary Native-American life.

Along with the problem of little representation, the stereotypes of Native-Americans are just as big of a problem. Laurel R. Davis-Delano, Jennifer   J. Folsom, Virginia McLaurin, Arianne E. Eason & Stephanie A. Fryberg found that, “In particular, we found: the bloodthirsty savage, noble Indian, degraded Indian, and casino Indian stereotypes; stereotypical signifiers; stereotypical physical appearance; underrepresentation of Native women; problematic messages about Native-White relations; and positive depictions of appropriation” (Davis-Delano, Folsom, McLaurin, Eason, and Fryberg). The next finding from the study finds a different problem from just a lack of representation. The representation that is present is harmful in many ways to how non-native people view Native-American people.

These appear to be the two biggest problems with Native-American representation in American media. Native-Americans are not widely portrayed on film, let alone being portrayed accurately. This problem would translate into a lack of Native-American actors being recognized at the Oscars. Olivia B. Waxman authored an article for Time Magazine called, Where Lily Gladstone Fits in the History of Indigenous Representation at the Oscars.” Olivia Waxman spoke to Monica Roxanne Sandler, a film historian at Emory University. Waxman wrote, “…the question will be whether Gladstone’s nomination will be “a new opening for more Indigenous representation or, as often been the case, a ‘one-off.’” She says she's also looking to see whether Gladstone’s nomination opens any opportunities to play contemporary Native Americans on tribal lands, as opposed to the more typical period pieces” (Waxman).

Sandler’s quote to Waxman shows the biggest question. It is a serious question to see if nominating one Native-American woman will open opportunities for other Native-American actors. As for her chances at the Oscars, the statistics don’t look great for her. Dr. Stacy L. Smith and the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative created a website with the Adobe Foundation to track the inclusion of non-white artist at award shows to highlight the importance of conclusion. In the history of the Academy Awards, the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative found, “Sixteen percent of all winners across the last 95 years were women. Less than 2% of nominees were women of color” (Annenberg Inclusion Initiative). The study goes on to say, “Three Indigenous women have been nominated for this award (Merle Oberon, Keisha Castle-Hughes, Yalitza Aparicio)” (Annenberg Inclusion Initiative).

Looking at the history of Best Leading Actors, the odds do not look positive for Lily Gladstone. That being said, Gladstone has something else working in her favor. Industry professionals have noted that when an actor wins at a different award show for film, it is an indicator of the most likely to win the Academy Award that year. Megan Camponovo, a writer for NBC News online said, “Usually, the winners of both the drama and comedy categories are put into the same Oscars category, which is where the challenging aspect comes in. It's common for the nominee who won in the drama category at the Golden Globes to take the Oscar home due to the more serious nature of the film” (Camponovo). If miss Camponovo is correct, that would put Lily Gladstone in the most likely chance to win an Academy Award.

The prospect of Gladstone winning is nothing short of historic. If Lily Gladstone were to win an Academy Award next month, she would be the first Native-American woman to do so. One can only hope that if she does win, it would create the opportunity for many other Native-American filmmakers to tell their stories and be able to gain proper recognition for their work. Time will only tell whether Lily Gladstone’s performance will be able to make such a change. Gladstone seems well prepared for the task.

















Works Cited

Camponovo, M. (2024, January 23). Are Golden Globe winners indicators of who will win the Oscars?. WXII. https://www.wxii12.com/article/golden-globe-winners-indicators-win-oscars/46507538

Initiative, A. I. (2023). Gender at the Oscars. Annenberg Inclusion Initiative Inclusion List. https://www.inclusionlist.org/oscars/gender

Laurel R. Davis-DelanoJennifer J. FolsomVirginia McLaurinArianne E. Eason & Stephanie A. Fryberg (2021) Representations of Native Americans in U.S. culture? A case of omissions and commissions, The Social Science Journal, DOI: 10.1080/03623319.2021.1975086


Waxman, O. B. (2024, January 23). Lily Gladstone and indigenous representation at Oscars. Time. https://time.com/6565410/lily-gladstone-oscar-nomination-first-native-american/



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