Lily Gladstone & The Infuriating (Yet Unsurprising) Snubs By The Oscars

When the clock hit 7:00pm EST on March 10th, 2024, marking the time that the 96th Academy Awards were about to commence, my wife and I made the gametime decision to not endure the next four-or-so hours watching Jimmy Kimmel being his ever-so bland self, while also inevitably fuming at many of the winners of the night’s twenty three statuettes. For a couple of people who’ve spent a majority of their lives watching, studying, and working in film and television, the Academy Awards have lost much of their allure and luster over the years. This because we (mostly) know how “the sausage is made;” the politics behind them, and both the types of films, and the types of individuals, the academy gravitates towards each year. As such, the winners are rarely ever a surprise to us. 

Speaking for myself, I knew that Nolan’s Oppenheimer was going to take most of the night’s key awards, including Best Directing and Best Picture. Though I would have loved to see Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon get more attention, that isn’t the movie that has nearly grossed $1 billion at the box office. With the academy desperately trying to entice mainstream audiences to watch their program due to their dwindling numbers, and with Nolan’s popularity and track record at the show, coupled with Oppenheimer being arguably his best work (though far from the best film of the year, in my opinion), the choice was obvious. It was also obvious to me that Killers of the Flower Moon’s Lily Gladstone, who had been on a tear gobbling up all the Best Actress awards across all the major critic awards including the SAGs and Critics Choice, would lose to Poor Things’ Emma Stone. However, my prediction still didn’t negate my anger at the snub, especially when considering the atrocious history the Oscars have with representing Indigenous peoples.

Image: Searchlight Pictures

Gladstone is the first Indigenous-American to be nominated for the Best Actress category, and would have been the first Indigenous person to win an Oscar. Among the 78 Best Actress winners, only two have been non-white women, one of whom being last year’s Michelle Yeoh, and the first being Halle Berry in 2002. So the fact that Emma Stone won (for a second time, no less) over someone whose win would’ve meant more to a subset of people whose artists have been historically overlooked, is telling. Indigenous artists have rarely gotten recognized by the Oscars, even when they were a part of films that were otherwise sweeping the awards night. For instance, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest swept the night during the 1979 Academy Awards, yet Muscogee actor Will Sampson, who played a central role in the film, not only didn’t win, but wasn’t even nominated for Best Supporting Actor despite being lauded for his performance. 

This negligence by the Oscars isn’t anything new. It’s been a topic of conversation for some time, and has been called out by artists and actors in the past. Most notably, in 1973 when actor and activist Marlon Brando refused to accept his Best Actor award for The Godfather, and instead sent actress Sacheen Littlefeather in his stead to give a now iconic speech in which she stated that Brando could not accept the award due to “the treatment of American Indians today by the film industry and on television in movie reruns, and also with recent happenings at Wounded Knee.” The most telling part of the video of her speech linked below is the reaction of the crowd, which responded to her words with audible (and unnerving) groans and boos. 

The fact that it’s been over fifty years since that speech, and the academy are still unwilling to recognize Indigenous talent, is a testament that any and all attempts for inclusion and representation they’ve tried to do in recent years is nothing more than vapid pandering. But let’s set aside the cultural impact Gladstone’s win would have meant and talk more about the performance itself, and why her loss to Stone was so obvious to me. It’s because what Emma Stone did in Poor Things, though good (at least for me, my wife absolutely detested her work), is…obvious. It’s the type of “character acting” that the Oscars and its voters find so alluring, simply because it’s “in your face.” Speaking as someone who has two degrees in the craft, let me tell you that Gladstone’s work as Mollie Burkhart is far more challenging; requiring a complete embodiment and understanding of a character’s “inner life.” Being able to showcase said “life” and the tumultuous arc and rage of her character through a beautifully vulnerable restraint is incredibly tough. I enjoyed Stone’s performance (Poor Things itself, not as much), but it’s one that can be taught with enough Fitzmaurice voicework and Lucid Body classes. Stone’s character didn’t leave a lasting impression on me. There was nothing about her performance that resonated with me on an emotional level. Gladstone’s work, on the other hand, left me thinking about her character for weeks.

I could go on about the many other snubs that feel like an annual tradition at this point. About how the Oscars showered a male director with their night’s accolades for a blockbuster film in Oppenheimer, yet failed to even nominate the one woman whose work was just as big (and arguably just as good). I am, of course, talking about Greta Gerwig’s Best Directing snub for her summer hit, Barbie. I could write about how even though I’m glad Mr. Miyazaki won for his supposed “final film” in The Boy and the Heron, the award should have gone to Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, which was in my opinion the superior film on all fronts. Though losing to one of Miyazaki’s more middling works is at least somewhat digestible (I’d be storming the streets if it were Elemental). What isn’t forgivable is Across the Spider-Verse not getting a nod for Best Soundtrack or Best Visual Effects. If you’ve seen the film, then the latter category should come as a no-brainer as there are no other movies with the frenetic visual flair as either Spider-Verse films, both of which showcase a complete mastery in animation and ability to tell an evocative story through its unique medium. But the fact that composer Daniel Pemberton returned for an even more memorable score that blended genres in such technically impressive ways and didn’t even get a nod for his work, is simply not right. This is, of course, to be expected. The academy have rarely given animated works their flowers, relegating them to one category and one category alone; furthering the notion that animation is simply a genre instead of what it actually is, which is an entire medium of film that deserves to be respected alongside live-action.   

Writing about all of the different ways that the Oscars fail to “celebrate cinema,” either by continually under-representing swathes of marginalized artists, dismissing many of the beautifully made films in animation, or outright neglecting the many, many incredible films by those outside of the U.S would take many more words than I am currently capable of typing. But it’s all to illustrate that the Academy Awards show is simply that: a show. An entertainment entity with politicking and shaking of dollar-filled hands galore, that is in service more to itself than to the artists that make its existence possible.  

Shaz Mohsin

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