An Oscars apology for Sacheen Littlefeather, 50 years after Brando protest

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An Oscars apology for Sacheen Littlefeather, 50 years after Brando protest
Sacheen Littlefeather standing before the Oscar statue holding Marlon Brando's statement at the 45th annual Academy Awards in Los Angeles. Photo: UCLA Library Special Collections.

by Amanda Holpuch

NEW YORK, NY.- The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has apologized to Sacheen Littlefeather, an Apache and Yaqui actress and activist who was booed onstage at the Oscars in 1973 after she refused the best actor award on behalf of Marlon Brando.

The Academy said in a statement Monday that it had apologized to Littlefeather, 75, in June, nearly 50 years after Littlefeather pierced through the Academy Awards facade of shiny statues and bright lights in 1973 and injected the ceremony with criticism about Native American stereotypes in media.

Her appearance at the ceremony, the first time a Native American woman stood onstage at the Academy Awards, is perhaps one of the best-known disruptive moments in the history of the award ceremony.

When Littlefeather, then 26, spoke, some of the audience cheered her and others jeered.

Littlefeather said she was “stunned” by the apology in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter. “I never thought I’d live to see the day I would be hearing this, experiencing this,” she said.

“When I was at the podium in 1973, I stood there alone,” she added.

Littlefeather also brought attention to the federal government’s standoff at Wounded Knee with Native Americans in the 1973 speech, which she came up with shortly before being called onstage on behalf of Brando, who was to receive the best actor award for his performance as Vito Corleone in “The Godfather.”

Littlefeather said in an interview with the Academy, which was published Monday, that she had been planning to watch the 45th Academy Awards on television like everyone else when she received a call the night before the ceremony from Brando. The two had become friends through her neighbor, director Francis Ford Coppola. Brando asked her to refuse the award on his behalf if he won.

Littlefeather told the Academy that speaking about these events in 2022 “felt like a big cleanse.”

“It feels like the sacred circle is completing itself before I go in this life,” said Littlefeather, who told The Guardian in June 2021 that she had terminal breast cancer.

The former president of the Academy, David Rubin, wrote in the apology to Littlefeather that the abuse she faced because of the speech was “unwarranted and unjustified.”

Rubin’s letter will be read next month at a program at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, “An Evening with Sacheen Littlefeather.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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