Academy apologizes to Sacheen Littlefeather over 1973 Marlon Brando Oscar incident
Nearly 50 years after Sacheen Littlefeather stood on the Academy Awards stage on behalf of Marlon Brando to speak about the depiction of Native Americans in Hollywood films, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has apologized to her for the abuse she endured.
The Academy Museum of Motion Pictures said Monday that it would host Littlefeather, now 75, for an evening of “conversation, healing and celebration” on Sept. 17.
When Brando won the lead actor Oscar for “The Godfather,” Littlefeather, wearing a buckskin dress and moccasins, took the stage, becoming the first Native American woman to do so at the Academy Awards. In a 60-second speech, she explained that Brando could not accept the award because of “the treatment of American Indians today by the film industry.”
Some in the audience booed her. John Wayne, who was backstage at the time, was reportedly furious. The 1973 Oscars were held during the American Indian Movement’s two-month occupation of Wounded Knee in South Dakota.
In the years since, Littlefeather has said she’s been mocked, discriminated against and personally attacked for her brief Academy Awards appearance.
In making the announcement, the Academy Museum shared a letter sent June 18 to Littlefeather by David Rubin, the academy president. Rubin called Littlefeather’s speech “a powerful statement that continues to remind us of the necessity of respect and the importance of human dignity.”
“The abuse you endured because of this statement was unwarranted and unjustified,” Rubin wrote. “The emotional burden you have lived through and the cost to your own career in our industry are irreparable. For too long the courage you showed has been unacknowledged. For this, we offer both our deepest apologies and our sincere admiration.”
Littlefeather, in a statement, said it was “profoundly heartening to see how much has changed since I did not accept the Academy Award 50 years ago.”
“Regarding the Academy’s apology to me, we Indians are very patient people — it’s only been 50 years!” said Littlefeather. “We need to keep our sense of humor about this at all times. It’s our method of survival.”
At the Academy Museum event next month, Littlefeather will sit for a conversation with producer Bird Runningwater, co-chair of the academy’s Indigenous Alliance.
In a podcast earlier this year with Jacqueline Stewart, a film scholar and director of the Academy Museum, Littlefeather reflected on what compelled her to speak out in 1973.
“I felt that there should be Native people, Black people, Asian people, Chicano people — I felt there should be an inclusion of everyone,” Littlefeather said, “a rainbow of people that should be involved in creating their own image.”
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