"Yellowstone" Slammed for "Deplorable" Depiction of American West by Native Actor Lily Gladstone
The star of the upcoming film Killers of the Flower Moon criticized the hit Western.
Yellowstone is inarguably a massive hit, which has launched several spinoffs, but the Western TV series has also faced considerable criticism, especially regarding its portrayal of Native Americans. Now, one prominent Native actor has made her thoughts on the show known. In a new interview with Vulture, Lily Gladstone, the star of Martin Scorsese's Killers of the Flower Moon, called Yellowstone "deplorable" but said that she doesn't blame its Indigenous cast members for taking on their roles.
Read on to see what else the 37-year-old Oscar contender had to say about the Kevin Costner show and why she thinks Killers of the Flower Moon handles its Native story more sensitively.
Yellowstone revolves around a family of white ranchers.
Yellowstone, which premiered in 2018, is focused on the Dutton family, especially patriarch John Dutton, played by Kevin Costner. It's set in the present day, and the conflict often has to do with land disputes involving the Dutton family's ranch, a nearby reservation, and others who want the property for their own financial gain. The primary series aired for five seasons, and the universe has also expanded to include two prequel series also about the Duttons—1883 and 1923. There are more spinoffs currently in the works.
Gladstone called the show "deplorable."
In her interview with Vulture, Gladstone—who is Blackfeet and Nez Perce on her father's side and white on her mother's—weighed in on Yellowstone. "Delusional! Deplorable!," she said of the popular show.
She did note that she does not place any blame on the Native American members of the cast for taking roles on the series, particularly because roles for Native American actors are few and far between.
"No offense to the Native talent in that. I auditioned several times. That's what we had," she said.
Gladstone's other credits include Billions, First Cow, and Reservation Dogs.
Other Native critics have panned Yellowstone.
In a 2022 piece for High Country News, Liza Black, a citizen of Cherokee Nation and professor of Native American and Indigenous Studies, criticized Yellowstone's depiction of Native Americans.
"[Series creator Taylor] Sheridan quickly establishes that Native people want power and money as much as white people do," Black writes. "In this view, no one has an intrinsic right to America because America is simply an open market. Yellowstone says America belongs to whoever can hold onto it. Sheridan erases the history between Natives and settlers, turning Montana into a place of brute force with no national past."
Black goes on to say, "The biggest problem with Native representation within the Sheridan-verse, though, is that he exhibits a sick, [Quentin] Tarantino-style impulse to include graphic violence against women—Native women, that is."
Native people involved in the show have defended it.
When Yellowstone premiered in 2018, Crow Nation tribal chairman AJ Not Afraid spoke to Variety about allowing the show to film on his reservation. He said that the show included a "realistic" portrayal of Native people and explained, "At first, we assumed it was going to be a cowboy/Indian typical back-in-the-1800s type, so we were skeptical of it. But we said we would allow it as long as we had the chance to portray some of the Native facts, and they were all for it."
Native American actor Gil Birmingham, who plays chief and businessman Thomas Rainwater on the show, said, "I think Taylor so brilliantly established a character that's empowered with education, and a means by which he can operate within the guidelines of a system that's been structured and empowered that character to be able to operate and reclaim the resources that have been belonged to him for centuries."
More recently, in 2022, Sheridan (pictured above) addressed claims that the show promotes right-wing politics.
"They refer to it as 'the conservative show' or 'the Republican show' or 'the red-state Game of Thrones,'" he told The Atlantic. "And I just sit back laughing. I'm like, 'Really?' The show's talking about the displacement of Native Americans and the way Native American women were treated and about corporate greed and the gentrification of the West, and land-grabbing. That's a red-state show?"
Gladstone says Killers of the Flower Moon is "not a white-savior story."
Gladstone told Vulture that she's pleased with the way Killers of the Flower Moon tells its story about Native people, especially after rewrites were done. The film is based on the 2017 book of the same name by David Grann and is about the real-life murders of members of the Osage Nation that took place in the 1920s after oil was discovered on their reservation. Gladstone explained that the script initially focused on the government agent investigating the murders (Jesse Plemons) rather than on the community itself, but that an overhaul made the Osage's story more prominent.
"It's not a white-savior story," Gladstone said. "It's the Osage saying, 'Do something. Here's money. Come help us.'"
The actor also said that her own input was welcomed, as well as that of Osage people.
"It was clear that I wasn't just going to be given space to collaborate. I was expected to bring a lot to the table," she said. Of being able to share her own history with Scorsese, she said, "That's what being equitable is—not just opening the door. It's pulling a seat out next to you at the table."
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