Killers Of The Flower Moon’s Lily Gladstone Praises How Changes To Leonardo DiCaprio’s Role Pushed Back Against ‘White Savior’ Narrative

One of the most powerful performances among the 2023 new movie releases is Lily Gladstone’s role in Martin Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon. In the award contender, the actress plays Mollie Burkhart, a member of Oklahoma’s Osage community that owned lucrative oil headrights. In the movie, Leonardo DiCaprio plays Mollie’s husband, Ernest Burkhart, who became the center of a series of murders of the Osage people. Gladstone spoke about how with DiCaprio’s role, the actor helped bring a more authentic depiction of these historical events to life. 

Before Killers Of The Flower Moon started captivating audiences on the big screen when it hit theaters last month, the film adaptation of David Grann’s novel had been in the works since 2016. During the production process, a lot reportedly changed script-wise. I reported back in 2021 that DiCaprio had switched roles during development, and Gladstone spoke to this when she took the stage at Variety’s Power of Women event. As she shared: 

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At one point, Leo wasn’t playing this complicated villain. He was playing the first investigator for the newly formed FBI, Tom White — the essential white savior. That was of no interest of him. Instead, bringing this complicated villain to the forefront brought Mollie Kyle, her beautiful sisters and the Osage community out of the periphery. I’ve heard early drafts maybe had three scenes deeply developed with Mollie.

Lily Gladstone was one of the distinguished honorees at the event held at the Getty Villa in Los Angeles, California. Along with Variety also awarding big names such as Billie Eilish and Margot Robbie, Gladstone took the stage to speak about the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center. She continued to praise DiCaprio’s role in Killers Of The Flower Moon, saying this: 

To understand the scope of the work that these women do and to understand the irony and how it ties to this man onstage playing an FBI agent — had he done that, how unfortunate it would’ve been for audiences to walk away under the impression that the FBI are the saviors of Native women. We know that is not the truth. Tribal governments in this nation and treaties with tribal people are the whole reason that the United States even exists. You need to enter into treaty with other nations to get your own validity. And yet these treaties are not honored.

FBI agent Tom White was ultimately played by Jesse Plemons, who is getting plenty of praise for his performance, but as a secondary character in Killers of the Flower Moon. Rather than centering the movie on the FBI’s investigation, Scorsese’s over three-hour epic focuses primarily on the inside job of sorts Ernest Burkhart commits after marrying the Osage woman. Gladstone continued: 

Over the course of colonization, the last several hundred years, our inherent sovereignty as tribal nations has been stripped away further and further and further — to the point that if you’re not enrolled in that tribe, on that reservation, and you commit a violent crime against a Native person, nobody can prosecute you except for the FBI. States don’t have jurisdiction on tribal land. Tribes don’t have jurisdiction. It’s only the federal government. The only people who have any authority to do anything do nothing. And the people who are left to do anything about it are these women here.

CinemaBlend’s own Killers Of The Flower Moon review gave the movie a perfect five out of five, saying it was under strong contention to be the “best movie of the year.” Critics have widely celebrated Scorsese’s latest as well, and it’s widely expected the movie will be a major Academy Awards contender during the 2024 award show. During the event, as DiCaprio stood off to the side, Gladstone spoke to the actor, saying this: 

Your dedication to uplifting Indigenous-led grassroots organizations is pretty badass… Leo, you understand that grassroots organizations, Indigenous frontline people, are the ones who are holding the line of the most valuable resources of this Earth. And I would add to that, in our Indigenous communities, our most valuable resource is our women, our children.

You can experience DiCaprio and Gladstone’s affecting performances in Killers Of The Flower Moon, now playing in theaters. 


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