In my dimly lit dorm room, on Academy Awards night, anticipation crackled through the air like static on an old vinyl record. It was the glitziest, most extravagant spectacle in the realm of cinema. As I settled into my uncomfortable desk chair, surrounded by crumpled takeout bags and half–empty soda cans, I braced myself for the inevitable rollercoaster of emotions that accompanies Hollywood's grandest soirée.

The clock ticked relentlessly towards showtime, each passing second adding to the mounting excitement. Celebrities strutted down the crimson carpet in their designer ensembles, dazzling cameras flashing like bursts of fireworks in the night sky. Meanwhile I, a mere mortal cinephile, huddled closer to my screen, eagerly awaiting the moment film pundits had been holding their breath for: the announcement of the Best Actress award.

As the ceremony unfolded, my eyes darted between the screen and the clock, my heart pounding like the drumroll in a suspenseful thriller. One by one, the nominees were called, their names echoing through the hushed theater like whispers in the dark. Each contender had delivered a powerhouse performance, leaving audiences spellbound and critics raving. But amidst the fervor and frenzy of the awards season, there was one name I wanted to hear most: Lily Gladstone.

Gladstone, the star of Killers of the Flower Moon, with her understated elegance and quiet intensity in the role of Mollie Burkhart, had carved out a niche for herself in the tumultuous landscape of contemporary cinema. Gladstone had also made national headlines when she became the first Native American actress to be nominated for an acting Oscar. Yet, despite her undeniable talent and mesmerizing presence on screen, she remained the underdog, overshadowed by her flamboyant counterparts. 

Then, like a bolt from the blue, it happened. As Michelle Yeoh tore open the envelope, her breath caught in her throat; the winner’s name was revealed, and a collective gasp rippled through the crowd (and found its way to me too). Emma Stone’s name echoed through the hallowed halls of the Dolby Theatre, and a wave of disbelief hit over me. Despite the outcome not aligning with my hopes, the fervor and energy of the moment remained palpable. In award ceremonies, hopes and expectations can be shattered in an instant.

And yet, even in defeat, there was a lesson to be learned, a lesson about the fleeting nature of accolades and the enduring legacy of true talent. While Gladstone may not have claimed the coveted trophy that night, her indelible mark on the industry is undeniable. 

As the credits rolled and the curtain fell on yet another Oscars night, I couldn't help but reflect on the central theme that had emerged from the chaos and cacophony of the evening: appreciation—not just for the bold and the brash, the loud and the larger–than–life, but for the quiet, the subtle, the nuanced. Gladstone’s brilliance transcends the boundaries of awards and accolades.

At the Oscars, the Best Actress category typically rewards performances characterized by dramatic flair and emotive intensity. However, Gladstone’s nomination defied these norms. Her subtle, understated approach to acting challenged traditional expectations and sparked both surprise and debate within the film industry.

Viewers and critics were left intrigued by Gladstone’s nomination, which prompted a reassessment of what constitutes outstanding acting. While some celebrated the recognition of authenticity and nuance, others questioned whether her subdued style warranted such acknowledgment. Gladstone’s nomination underscored the significance of authenticity in performance, and her refusal to step to the sideline made her inescapable.

In Killers of the Flower Moon, Lily Gladstone plays Mollie Burkhart, an Osage women facing the systemic murder of her family and people over their oil fortunes, with a depth and authenticity that captivated audiences. From moments of quiet contemplation to intense emotional turmoil, Gladstone illuminates the quiet strength and resilience of a woman grappling with the devastating impact of injustice. Despite the film's historical setting and weighty subject matter, Gladstone’s performance never veers into melodrama or overwrought sentimentality. Instead, she remains grounded and authentic, allowing Burkhart’s humanity to shine through in every scene.

One notable scene that showcases Gladstone’s skill is the final confrontation between Mollie and her husband, Ernest (Leonardo DiCaprio), as they grapple with the devastating impact of his crimes against the Osage Nation. Despite the emotional weight of the scene, Gladstone's performance remains restrained while DiCaprio goes big, capturing Burkhart’s inner turmoil with subtlety. Through subtle gestures and expressions, Gladstone conveys the depth of Burkhart’s pain and frustration, allowing audiences to empathize with her plight on a visceral level.

Gladstone’s approach to her craft enhances the overall storytelling of Killers of the Flower Moon. By embodying her character with such authenticity and nuance, Gladstone grounds it in a sense of humanity and truth. In a film about such unimaginable crimes, her presence adds layers of complexity to the narrative. 

The Oscars’ preference for more overt or traditionally “award–worthy” performances over subtle acting has long been a point of contention within the film industry. The recent proliferation of acting nominations for biopics in recent years is a testament to voter's preferences for grandiose and easily accessible work. This bias often leads to the undervaluing of performances like Gladstone’s, which prioritize depth and authenticity over theatrics. Gladstone’s nomination for Best Actress, in this sense, can also serve as a stark reminder of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ tendency to overlook performances that don’t fit neatly into their predetermined criteria.

When comparing performances like Stone’s winng performance in Poor Things to Gladstone’s in Killers of the Flower Moon, it’s evident that the Oscars often prioritize spectacle over substance. While Stone’s portrayal of an individual with a baby’s brain and an adult’s body may have been entertaining and skillfully executed, it pales in comparison to the emotional depth and historical significance of Gladstone’s performance. Killers of the Flower Moon delves into the harrowing reality of a mass atrocity committed against the Indigenous people, specifically the Osage Nation, a subject matter that carries immense weight and importance. To award a performance like Stone’s over Gladstone’s is not only a disservice to the art of acting, but also a failure to recognize the importance of storytelling that sheds light on overlooked or marginalized histories.

Gladstone’s nomination should serve as a wake–up call for the film industry to reevaluate its standards and appreciate a wider range of acting styles. By celebrating performances that prioritize authenticity and nuance, the industry can create space for diverse voices and stories to be heard. Gladstone’s historic nomination should have been a moment of celebration for the Osage people, whose story was brought to the forefront of Hollywood. Instead, it serves as a reminder of the Academy’s failure to recognize and honor performances that challenge the status quo.