USA | Aug 16, 2022

An apology 50 years in the making: Film academy apologises to Littlefeather for treatment at 1973 Oscars

Mikala Johnson

Mikala Johnson / Our Today

Actress and Activist Sacheen Littlefeather

Nearly 50 years after actress 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 Pictures Arts and Sciences has apologised to her for the abuse she endured.

The Academy Museum of Motion Pictures on Monday (August 15) said that it would host Littlefeather, now 75, for an evening of “conversation, healing and celebration” on September 17.

When Brando won best actor for The Godfather, Littlefeather, wearing buckskin dress and moccasins, took the stage, becoming the first Native American woman ever to do so at the Academy Awards.

The Oscar trophy

 In a 60-second speech, she explained that Brando could not accept the award due to “the treatment of American Indians today by the film industry”.

As a result of this, she was booed by some members of the audience. Actor John Wayne, who was backstage at the time, was reportedly furious at Littlefeather’s appearance at the event and had to be restrained by security guards.

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.

Sacheen Littlefeather at the 1973 Oscars.

In making the announcement, the Academy Museum shared a letter sent June 18 to Littlefeather by David Rubin, academy president, about the iconic Oscar moment.

Rubin called Littlefeather’s speech “a powerful statement that continues to remind us of the necessity of respect and the importance of human dignity”.

Wrote Rubin: “The abuse you endured because of this statement was unwarranted and unjustified. 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.”

Littlefeather during her famous Oscar’s speech.

“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 humour about this at all times. It’s our method of survival.”

At the Academy Museum event in Los Angeles, Littlefeather will sit for a conversation with producer Bird Runningwater, co-chair of the academy’s Indigenous Alliance.

“A rainbow of people that should be involved in creating their own image.”

Actress Sacheen Littlefeather

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,” said Littlefeather.

“A rainbow of people that should be involved in creating their own image.”


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