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We need to talk about Lily Gladstone (and Hollywood's responsibility)

The protagonist of Killers of the Flower Moon and her character open a debate

We need to talk about Lily Gladstone (and Hollywood's responsibility) The protagonist of Killers of the Flower Moon and her character open a debate

In the huge, grandiose film "Killers of the Flower Moon," which is now out in Italian cinemas as of October 19, 2023, what stands out the most is the performance of the co-lead, no doubt. Lily Gladstone's portrayal of Mollie, with her intense gaze and ancient strength, sparks important conversations about Hollywood representation that were long overdue, giving hope for the future of Western cinema. Let's take it step by step.

Killers of the Flower Moon, Based on a True Story

This film, written and directed by Martin Scorsese, is inspired by a true story recounted in the journalist David Grann's book of the same name. In the 1920s, the Osage Native American tribe discovered a significant oil deposit in their territory, making them incredibly wealthy. Along with wealth came white Americans, who established economic ties and more with the most influential families of the tribe. Unexpectedly, but perhaps not so in today's eyes, some indigenous people started being murdered, revealing a deliberate scheme of genocide of their people. Against this already charged backdrop, the story of the veteran Ernest, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, intertwines with Mollie, Lily Gladstone, a member of one of the wealthiest families in the territory.

Representation of Mollie Burkhart, an Ongoing Debate

The fact that the world's most famous and acclaimed director, who grew up and gained fame in a Hollywood that, frankly, didn't pay much attention to these issues, chooses to tell this story is already significant. Furthermore, his use of Native American actors, his multiple trips to Oklahoma to meet the protagonists' families, and his consultation with Osage tribe advisors to better represent their language and customs, amplifies this impact. However, there's still something to be said. Discussions online, even before the international release of the film, have focused mainly on Lily Gladstone and her character. Some argue that, although the 37-year-old actress is a sadly still too rare example of correct casting that respects the character - as Gladstone herself has Blackfeet and Nimìipuu heritage, making her a native herself - more could have been done with the character of Mollie Burkhart.

@connorbeardox This PSA is absolutely WILD #psa #tv #commercial #native #indigenous Strawberry - Prod. By Rose

Christopher Cote's Words

These are, for example, the doubts expressed by Christopher Cote, one of the consultants on set for the Osage tribe, to the Hollywood Reporter. "As an Osage, I would have liked this film to focus on Mollie's point of view and her family, but I think it would have required an Osage director to do so. Martin Scorsese did a great job in representing our people, but this story is told from Ernest's point of view, and it seems to suggest that there is love between him and Mollie. But when someone conspires to kill your whole family, how can there be love?"

Scorsese's Experience in Oklahoma and the Role of Margie Burkhart

These are valid doubts, to which Scorsese inadvertently responded in a lengthy interview with the British Film Institute, where he detailed the film's writing process, starting from the original material. This process shifted the focus from the birth of the FBI to the crimes and the Burkhart family, especially after several meetings with tribal leaders and the direct descendants of the protagonists, particularly Margie, the niece. "Eric Roth, the co-writer, and I made two trips to the Osage Nation territories in Oklahoma. The Gray Horse group decided to welcome us with a dinner for 250 people and talk to us. It was nice, I felt comfortable. I realized that the story was all there" the director stated, adding: "They were fearful, they told me to be careful with Mollie's character, not to put words in her mouth, not to portray them as victims. Margie, in particular, stood up and said it was important for me to remember that Ernest and Mollie loved each other".

A Film by Whites for Whites, and That's a Good Thing

In the latter part of Cote's statements lies another fundamental point of the matter. "The question this film leaves you with is: how long will you be complacent in the face of racism? How long will you consent to something without saying anything, without raising your voice? It does, I think, because it's a film made for everyone, not just for the Osage. It's an opportunity, for those who haven't experienced this genocide, to ask themselves about their own morality." That Scorsese chose to respect the family's wishes and tell an important story to a white audience, like an undercover agent, conducting a masterful reflection on the banality of evil and the guilt of silence, tells us a lot, especially about his absolute dedication to stories and human beings above all else and his sense of responsibility.

A Shared Great Responsibility at the Core

A great responsibility of which Lily Gladstone herself is very aware, as she announced her participation in the film on Instagram: "I consider it a gift and a great responsibility to be entrusted with Mollie Burkhart, and I will hold her close to my heart with both arms. My deepest thanks go to the Osage Nation, it's a wonderful gift to have been welcomed by you and to be able to tell this story." However, this responsibility must be shared. Not only by the director and the cast, but also by the entertainment industry and the viewer, who receives a work of art but also the burden of a question and a request: to break the silence.

Embracing the Nuances

Casting choices, character focus, target audience. Nuances, in the end, that's what it boils down to. Important nuances, worth talking about and discussing, a symbol of a decisive and promising shift in collective consciousness. Nuances that Scorsese, with surprising delicacy, accounts for in his work, nuances that are all in the performance of a Lily Gladstone that he himself describes as intelligent in mind and heart, proud, serene. All attributes visible on the screen, making it, thanks to her above all, the film of the year.