Lily Gladstone says Native American history has essentially been “banned” from the US school curriculum, with teachers who want to include it “intimidated” and “left in fear of losing their licence”.
The Oscar-nominated star says she hopes her latest film, Killers Of The Flower Moon, will help raise awareness of a neglected part of history, which she says “absolutely deserves to be in the curriculum”.
The 37-year-old native of Montana’s Blackfeet reservation told The World With Yalda Hakim: “It’s unfortunately a history that while it really must be taught, especially in the place where it originates, is essentially lightly banned in Oklahoma from being taught. And in a lot of places in the United States that are afraid of including things like this in their curriculum.”
She goes on: “Maybe afraid of including is not the right word, but legislation has been created to intimidate teachers away from teaching these histories and in fear of losing their teaching licence.
“So, having the film there where people can access it, have curiosity about it, and seek it out on their own [is important]. And I mean, if there’s a children’s reader’s version of this book, then it absolutely deserves to be in the curriculum.”
The film – which has earned 10 Oscar nominations including best film, best director and best actress for Gladstone – follows the murders of wealthy members of the Osage tribe in mysterious circumstances in the 1920s.
Gladstone describes her nod for the role of Osage national Mollie Burkhart – the first time a Native American has been recognised in the category – as “restitution”, calling it “long overdue”.
She’s already won a Golden Globe for the role.
And she says the airbrushing of Native American’s stories from the screen is a much more recent event than we imagine.
Gladstone says: “It hasn’t always been that we’ve been excluded from the centre of filmic storytelling. It was in the wake of the Great Depression and World War Two in the United States, that the cowboy driven Western rose.
“It’s shifted to fit what the American populace wanted to see about themselves. So, being at this point in history, it’s taken 96 years to get here, when the origin of film in the United States was Native people making stories about ourselves.”
‘Marty – he gets out of the way’
As for criticism that this is yet another case of a white re-telling of the Native American story, Gladstone says it’s not that clear cut.
“People want to attribute that this is a white man telling [the story]. It was a white man helming it. But Marty [director, Martin Scorsese] is so remarkable because everything about him as an artist is in service of the story that he’s telling, is in the service of the characters in it. So, he gets out of the way when he realises that he can’t answer the question and he knows he can’t.
“He was so insistent and enthusiastic about having meetings with Osage, people who corrected maybe a fault in the script. And as soon as there was something identified, [he said] ‘Oh, we got to change this, we got to find something else to place in it’.
Rolling in money and Rolls Royces
As for the history of the Osage Nation at the centre of the story, Gladstone says while she hadn’t been fully aware of the “reign of terror” depicted in the film, she had heard snippets of the true story before.
“I had taken a very special interest as a child, and Maria Tallchief, America’s first prima ballerina who was Osage from Fairfax, Oklahoma. She and her sister Marjorie, very renowned ballerinas. I do have a very vivid memory of being worried that Maria Tallchief family may have been hurt by this.
“And I do also have a very vivid memory of my dad telling me that Osage had enough money that they bought a Rolls Royce, and it ran out of gas. They would just go buy another car.”
Killers Of The Flower Moon, based on David Grann’s non-fiction book of the same name, is in cinemas now.
The World with Yalda Hakim – which discusses the latest international news headlines – airs from 9-10pm Monday-Thursday on Sky News.