Lily Gladstone Will Campaign for Lead Actress for ‘Killers of the Flower Moon,’ and Could Make History as First Native American Nominee (EXCLUSIVE)

Oscar season is always full of twists and turns, and the biggest one yet just dropped with “Killers of the Flower Moon.”

Variety has learned exclusively that Lily Gladstone’s work as Mollie Burkhart, an Indigenous woman at the center of a sinister plot in Martin Scorsese’s crime epic, will be campaigned for the Oscars in best actress, instead of supporting where many pundits had speculated. She will campaign alongside her Oscar-winning co-star and executive producer, Leonardo DiCaprio.

Based on David Grann’s 2017 non-fiction book “Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI,” the film tells the tragic true story of members of the Osage tribe who were murdered under suspicious circumstances during the 1920s.

Read: Variety’s Awards Circuit for the latest Oscars predictions in all categories.

“Killers” is a movie that focuses on the Indigenous experience, especially in the context of the events surrounding it. Scorsese’s intention and mission of the film is to highlight the voices of the Osage people who lived through these horrific events. Gladstone’s role could have gone either way on the awards circuit, but the campaign will represent a significant milestone with her role front and center.

The film premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, where Scorsese, along with his actors including DiCaprio, Gladstone, Robert De Niro and Jesse Plemons, received an enthusiastic standing ovation from attendees. Gladstone’s work had become a frontrunner in these early days of the awards season, and her category surprise mimics that of Michelle Williams in last year’s “The Fabelmans,” who went on to be nominated for lead. Co-distributors Apple Original Films and Paramount Pictures hope the 37-year-old sensation can go even further.

Sadly, Indigenous representation in the Academy has been virtually non-existent in the history of cinema.

There have been three Indigenous women nominated for best actress – Merle Oberon for “The Dark Angel” (1935), Keisha Castle-Hughes in “Whale Rider” (2003) and Yalitza Aparicio for “Roma” (2018). Those women are British, Kiwi, and Mexican, respectively.

Along with never winning an acting Oscar, an Indigenous actress has never won a SAG or Critics Choice prize, or even been nominated by those groups.

With Gladstone’s exit from the supporting actress category, that race has blown wide open with many potentials hoping to take her once-occupied frontrunner spot. With “Killers” predicted to be one of the top awards players, I also wouldn’t count out any of Gladstone’s Indigenous co-stars to make a play for acting love, notably Cara Jade Myers, who plays her sister Anna.

In addition to best picture, directing and acting categories, the film will vie for all categories including adapted screenplay (Eric Roth, Scorsese), production design (Jack Fisk, Adam Willis), cinematography (Rodrigo Prieto), costume design (Jacqueline West), film editing (Thelma Schoonmaker), makeup and hairstyling (to be announced), sound (to be announced), visual effects (to be announced) and original score (the late Robbie Robertson).

In Variety’s review, Peter Debruge writes: “DiCaprio has never gone this far to the dark side, daring us to follow along as Ernest bumbles his way through a stone-cold “Gaslight”-style plot to steal his wife’s fortune.”

Produced by Scorsese, Dan Friedkin, Daniel Lupi and Bradley Thomas, Apple Original Films will release “Killers of the Flowers Moon” exclusively in theaters worldwide on Oct. 20.

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