Sacheen Littlefeather had just 60 seconds to speak at the 1973 Academy Awards. In her short speech, she declined the Best Actor Oscar on behalf of Marlon Brando, received a mixture of cheers and cheers, and defended Native Americans’ rights to the national tv.
Nearly 50 years later, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences formally apologizes to Littlefeather for the abuse she experienced during her speech and in the years since.
“The abuse you have suffered because of this statement was unjustified and unjustified,” former Academy president David Rubin wrote in a letter to Littlefeather. “The emotional burden you have endured and the cost to your own career in our industry is irreparable. For too long the courage you showed has not been acknowledged. For this, we offer our deepest apologies as well as our sincere admiration.”
Littlefeather will appear at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures next month to discuss her historic Oscars performance and the future of Indigenous onscreen representation, the Academy said.
In a statement, Littlefeather called the upcoming event, where she will receive the apology in person, “a dream come true.”
“As for the Academy’s apologies to me, we Indians are very patient people – it’s only been 50 years!” she said. “We must maintain our sense of humor about this at all times. It is our way of survival.”
Several Indigenous artists will be performing at the event for Littlefeather, including Bird Runningwater, co-chair of the Academy’s Indigenous Alliance, and Virginia Carmelo, a descendant of the Tongva people who will lead a country recognition.
“It’s heartwarming to see how much has changed since I didn’t receive the Academy Award 50 years ago,” Littlefeather said.
When Brando won Best Actor for his lead role in “The Godfather,” he was absent. In his stead, he asked Littlefeather, then an actress and activist, to attend the ceremony — and decline the award on his behalf.
Calm and calm on stage in a buckskin dress, Littlefeather solemnly introduced herself as an Apache woman and chairman of the National Native American Affirmative Image Committee.
“(Brando) unfortunately cannot accept this very generous award, and the reasons for this are the current treatment of American Indians by the film industry,” she said to a mix of boos and applause, pausing for a moment and looking visibly upset. “I beg at this moment that I have not intruded this evening, and that in the future we will meet our hearts and our understanding with love and generosity.”
Brando also declined to accept the award because of the federal response to Wounded Knee when members of the American Indian Movement occupied the city of South Dakota, but met resistance from federal law enforcement. Feather said she promised Brando she wouldn’t touch the Oscar statue, she said.
“I focused on the mouths and jaws that fell open in the audience, and there were quite a few,” she told the official Academy 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 Western star who once said that “Indians selfishly tried to keep (the US) to themselves”, told her to “get her off the stage” even though he was stopped by guards. .
After the ceremony, Littlefeather said she was “silenced” and struggling to find work in the film industry. She devoted much of her post-Oscars career to activism and founding performing arts organizations for Indigenous actors.
Despite the condemnation she received from some in Hollywood who disagreed with her defense 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.