Sacheen Littlefeather had just 60 seconds to speak at the 1973 Oscars. In her brief speech, she declined the Best Actor Oscar on behalf of Marlon Brando, faced a mixture of boos and loud cheers, and defended Native American rights on national television.
Nearly 50 years later, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences officially apologizes to Littlefeather for the mistreatment she suffered during her speech and in the years to come.
The abuse you suffered because of this statement was unwarranted and unwarranted, former Academy President David Rubin wrote in a letter to Littlefeather. The emotional burden you have experienced and the cost of your own career in our industry is irreparable. For too long, the courage you have shown has gone unrecognized. For this, we offer you both our most sincere apologies and our sincere admiration.
littlefeather goes appear at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures next month to discuss her historic Oscar appearance and the future of Indigenous representation onscreen, the Academy said.
In a statement, Littlefeather called the upcoming event, at which Shell will receive the apology in person, a dream come true.
As for the Academy’s apologies, we Indians are very patient people, it’s only been 50 years! she says. We have to keep our sense of humor about it at all times. This is our method of survival.
Several indigenous artists will perform during the event for Littlefeather, including Bird Runningwater, co-chair of the Academys Indigenous Alliance, and Virginia Carmelo, a descendant of the Tongva people who will lead a territorial reconnaissance.
It is deeply encouraging to see how much everything has changed since I failed to accept the Oscar 50 years ago, said Littlefeather.
When Brando won Best Actor for his lead role in The Godfather, he was absent. In her place, he asked Littlefeather, then an actress and activist, to attend the ceremony and decline the award on her behalf.
take the stage quietly and calmly in a buckskin dress, Littlefeather solemnly introduced herself as an Apache woman and president of the National Native American Affirmative Image Committee.
(Brando) unfortunately cannot accept this very generous award, and the reasons for this are the treatment of American Indians today by the film industry, she said to a mixture of boos and applause, stopping and looking visibly upset. Please do not interfere with me in this evening, and that in the future, our hearts and our understandings will meet with love and generosity.
Brando also declined to accept the award due to the federal response to Injured knee, when members of the American Indian Movement occupied the South Dakota town but encountered resistance from federal law enforcement. Littlefeather said she promised Brando she wouldn’t touch the Oscar statuette, she said.
I focused on the mouths and jaws opening in the audience, and there were quite a few, she Told the Academy’s official blog, A.Frame. But it was like looking into a sea of Clorox, you know, there were very few people of color in the audience.
She also said that John Wayne, the conservative West star who once said The Indians were selfishly trying to keep (the United States) to themselves, tasked her with getting her off the stage, although he was restrained by security guards.
After the ceremony, Littlefeather said she was silenced and struggled to find work in the film industry. She dedicated much of her post-Academy career to activism and founding performing arts organizations for Indigenous actors.
Despite the condemnation she received from some in Hollywood who disagreed with her defenses of Native Americans, Littlefeather said she received praise and support from leaders like Coretta Scott King and Cesar Chavez.
I knew I had done the right thing, she told A.Frame.
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