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Lily Gladstone goes for Oscar gold in Fancy Dance—but how gay is it?

Lily Gladstone goes for Oscar gold in Fancy Dance—but how gay is it?

isabel-deroy-olsen-lily-gladstone-fancy-dance
Apple TV+

Fresh off delivering an Oscar-worthy performance in Killers of the Flower Moon, Gladstone is knocking on the Academy’s door once again.

Welcome to How Gay Is It?Out’s review series where, using our state-of-the-art Eggplant Rating System, we determine just how queer some of pop culture's buzziest films and TV shows are! (Editor’s note: this review contains mild spoilers for Fancy Dance.)

Lily Gladstone is an unstoppable force.

Fresh off delivering a Oscar-worthy performance in Killers of the Flower Moon, Gladstone is knocking on the Academy’s door once again with a subtly strong and unflinchingly bare turn as a woman hustling and living on the rez, trying to find her missing sister and get her niece to a powwow in Erica Tremblay's Fancy Dance.

Fancy Dance, which premiered at Sundance two years ago, centers on Jax (Gladstone), a woman from the Seneca-Cayuga Reservation in Oklahoma who is taking care of her 13-year-old niece Roki (Isabel DeRoy-Olson). Together they collect bait and go metal detecting by the river, commit crimes ranging from shoplifting to grand theft auto, and work to save up money to go to the annual powwow, where Roki has danced with her mom for years. Now that her mom, Tawi, has gone missing, Roki believes that she'll see her again at the powwow to dance together one more time.

When Jax loses custody of Roki to the girl's white grandfather, the two go on the road, experiencing both the joys and connection of womanhood and their culture, as well as the impossible boundaries this country has placed around them.

Apple TV+

Fancy Dance is a brilliant debut from first-time narrative feature director Tremblay, who also co-wrote the script with Miciana Alise. Tremblay has powerful stories to tell and, as evidenced by this film, knows how to tell them well.

It also features an excellent breakout performance from the young Isabel DeRoy-Olson, who plays the 13-year-old Roki, who loves dancing, loves her family, and doesn't flinch at saying 'fuck you' to the authorities.

Most of the film's biggest and best moments happen between Roki and Jax, who form the disarming heart of the film, which always remains tender when exploring one of the biggest shames in our nation: the epidemic of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW).

Just two weeks before the powwow, Jax loses custody of Roki to her white father who decides that Roki won't be able to go to the powwow this year. When Jax tries to use the system to get Roki back, she's told there's nothing she can do unless she has thousands of dollars and plenty of time.

When Jax takes off with Roki, she leaves behind a note for her father, asking for just a few days, but after a few hours, he calls the police and they issue an amber alert. Soon, there's a nationwide manhunt for Jax, who is just trying to find her sister and help her niece. Add in an ICE agent who stops the two and questions them and the FBI agent who says they shouldn't get "distracted" by trying to look for Tawi, and we see quickly that the entire system is set up against them.

Apple TV+

One of the most beautiful aspects of the film is the way Jax and Roki communicate with each other using the Cayuga language. They casually toss phrases back and forth, using the language to communicate things they want only the other to know. In one of Fancy Dance's most powerful moments, the also use language to showcase one of the deepest themes of the entire film.

"What's the word for 'aunt' in our language?" Roki desperately asks Jax when everything is coming to a head.

Jax replies by saying that the word for aunt means "small mother" or "other mother," a role that she's fighting to fulfill every day.

The film's finale takes place at the powwow, where Jax is looking for Roki as the mother-daughter dance happens and the announcer talks about how women are the backbone and strength of the community — something Jax feels she's been lacking.

Fittingly, immediately after is the dance in remembrance of MMIW, showing viewers the reality that the community often doesn't have those women who are so important.

In the end, Jax's role as Roki's "small mother" comes full circle when Jax find's Roki at the powwow dancing and dances with her, making Roki's dream of dancing with her mom at the powwow come true.

Apple TV+

Now, how gay is it?

Fancy Dance is a brilliant starring vehicle for Gladstone, one of the premiere actors of her generation and who is also a part of the queer community. This film shows that she's in a class with the other elite actors of our time, like Saoirse Ronan, Emma Stone, and Margot Robbie. Back-to-back Oscar nominations should be a done deal!

Gladstone's character is a Grade-A Dyke in all the best ways, rolling into strip clubs with her button-up shirts, long braid, and wry smile, winning the heart of one dancer in particular. Throughout the film, Jax emits a confident strength that is starting to crack after a lifetime of having to support not just her family, but her community.

However, while Jax's queerness is an integral part of the story, the film focuses more on the connection of womanhood between Jax and Roki than on Jax's queerness, leaving the film with a very respectable (and very gay!) three out of five eggplants.

three eggplants

Fancy Dance is in now playing in select theaters and will stream on Apple TV+ on June 28.

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Mey Rude

Mey Rude is a journalist and cultural critic who has been covering queer news for a decade. The transgender, Latina lesbian lives in Los Angeles with her fiancée.

Mey Rude is a journalist and cultural critic who has been covering queer news for a decade. The transgender, Latina lesbian lives in Los Angeles with her fiancée.