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Fancy Dance


Oscar-nominee Lily Gladstone on her latest film, Fancy Dance, and the importance of telling Indigenous stories onscreen

The past year has been remarkable for actress Lily Gladstone. In May 2023, Martin Scorsese’s thriller, Killers of the Flower Moon, premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, making Gladstone a household name. The year that followed brought her acclaim that culminated in an Oscar nomination. “The last year has literally changed everything,” she tells TV Week in Cannes, to where she returned as a member of the festival jury. “It’s really lovely to have this huge full circle moment.  Stepping back on the big red carpet at the Palais last night, it was such a time jump. If time travel is possible, that’s how you do it.” Having the spotlight on her has meant that Gladstone is able to bring attention to projects dear to her heart, such as the film Fancy Dance, in which she plays a Seneca-Cayuga woman on a journey to find her missing sister, while raising her niece Roki (Isabel DeRoy-Olson). “I get uncomfortable with individual acclaim,” she admits. “But I know that all of it is because what I’m carrying represents so many others.” We spoke to Gladstone about the opportunity to tell important stories and the universality of human emotion.

Fancy Dance on Apple TV+. Pictured: Pictured: Lily Gladstone with co-star Isabel Deroy-Olson in Fancy Dance.
Apple TV+

TV WEEK: It’s so nice that you are able take time out of your Cannes jury duties to talk about this film.

LILY GLADSTONE: I’m so grateful I can. It’s such a special film for me. [Director] Erica Tremblay and I have been working together since 2018. She was a Sundance fellow for short film development first, and her mentor was [Reservation Dogs’ creator] Sterlin Harjo, who I am friends with. The premiere is coming, and I know people are going to be able to access it and experience what everybody who was blessed enough [experienced] when it was on its festival run. The fact that it has a home with Apple TV+ now and is going to live on the digital shelf next to Killers of the Flower Moon, it’s really a blessing.

TV WEEK: What struck you about this film?

LILY GLADSTONE: It’s so haunting. You fall in love with these characters and you root for them in a way that you don’t often get to root for complex people. There’s a very strong lesson here in building compassion for folks who are acting within circumstance: Your hero doesn’t have to be perfect. You don’t have to be a model minority to bring audiences into a world. The feedback I kept hearing from folks who saw both [Killers of the Flower Moon and Fancy Dance] was that these films need to be seen together. It’s the same world a hundred years apart. One of the biggest responses that I was hearing from Killers of the Flower Moon, was that they fell in love with Molly and they wanted more of her sisters, her community. There were a lot of folks that got the opportunity for the first time in their film-going lives to really care about and fall in love with an indigenous woman. Now you get to transfer that immediately to what I’ve called the greatest love story; this matriarchal bond between niece and auntie.

TV WEEK: This film talks about the plague of Native American women that have gone missing. Those victims are generally not heard about.

Lily Gladstone: You can’t talk to anybody in Indian country who didn’t intimately know a woman or a person who’s gone missing or has been murdered. It’s 10 times likelier than the national average, for one of us to be murdered in our lifetimes, or to be sexually assaulted, or be the survivors — hopefully — of violent crimes against us. It is a one of the unfortunate and very systemic things that divides our communities. We simply do not have the jurisdiction to protect ourselves. In the 1970s, there was a Supreme Court case that severely eroded tribal sovereignty. The ruling said that tribal police can only arrest or detain enrolled tribal members on that land. You look at the statistics, and maybe 80 to 90 per cent of violent crimes committed against native women are perpetuated by non-natives, particularly white men. They can do basically anything on tribal land with impunity because the only jurisdictional body that has any authority is the FBI, and the FBI doesn’t put resources toward these individual cases. So, it’s addressed by Native women. We made this film. A lot of my work within the community has been in tandem with the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center. They’re the ones who put in the work. They, and a lot of other organizations like them run by Native matriarchs, are the ones that drive to the border and pick up a girl that’s about to be trafficked across state lines or out of the country. They’re the ones bringing in artists like me to work with our youth, who learn that your life, your voice is valuable. One of the ways that you prevent these violent crimes is by creating a tightly interconnected, strong community.

TV WEEK: You’re in a unique position where you are able to shine a light on these important Indigenous stories. How do you strike the balance between maybe wanting to do something lighter for yourself, but also taking advantage of this enormous opportunity?

Lily Gladstone: This is going to sound funny, but a quote that I love from Danny DeVito is, “Any characters that I play are all going to have one thing in common: They’re all going to be short.” So I feel like whatever character I play is an opportunity for an Indigenous person to be in a role that we’re not used to seeing. It’s an incredible opportunity to have these moments where we can highlight conversations that we deal with, but being Indigenous, it’s also so important to show that we’ve always belonged in these roles in cinema. Shaping Molly Burkhart, for Killers of the Flower Moon, there was the responsibility to be true to her as an Osage woman but there was also this balance of being a leading lady in a film that felt like it could have lived in the golden age of cinema.

TV WEEK: Have you noticed, perhaps because of films like yours, that awareness of the Indigenous community is changing?

Lily Gladstone: Yes. I think one of the strongest examples of that is the reception of Reservation Dogs. Sterlin, he didn’t let anybody tell him how to do his thing. There’s a sweatshirt that Crazy Eagle Productions has with the slogan “We don’t give a s**t how you do it in L.A.” I’m so grateful to shows like Reservation Dogs that just allow people to come into our world a little bit. It also shows that audiences are smart. This isn’t such an esoteric, culturally specific thing that people can’t connect to the humanity of it. No, you create the world and let people inside of it. They’ll find the humor in it. They’ll find the tragedy.

Fancy Dance, streaming on Friday, June 28, on Apple TV+

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