The Academy apologizes to Sacheen Littlefeather 50 years after the 1973 Oscars

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has formally apologized to Sacheen Littlefeather – 50 years after she was booed while on stage.

The Apache/Yaqui/AZ actress took to the stage at the 1973 Academy Awards to refuse an Oscar on Marlon Brando’s behalf. Having only been given 60 seconds to speak, Littlefeather advocated for Native American rights to a mixture of boos and cheers from the audience.

Brando had won an Oscar for his portrayal of Vito Corleone in The Godfather but sent Littlefeather, then 26, to reject the award in his place.

Watch Littlefeather’s address below:

His refusal was largely in part due to the US government’s response to W0unded Knee, when members of the American Indian Movement occupied a South Dakota town but were met with opposition from federal law enforcement. The result was a 71 day siege that ended in the de*ths of two Native Americans, per NLM.

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Sacheen Littlefeather was met with booing after taking the stage to refuse Marlon Brando’s Oscar on his behalf. Credit: Album / Alamy

Upon entering the stage, Littlefeather had barely a minute to tell the audience that Brando “very regretfully cannot accept this very generous award,” despite being given “a very long speech” from the Hollywood great, BBC News reports.

“And the reasons for this being the treatment of American Indians today by the film industry and on television in movie re-runs, and also with recent happenings at W0unded Knee,” Littlefeather was reported to have stated.

“I beg at this time that I have not intruded upon this evening, and that we will in the future, our hearts and our understandings will meet with love and generosity,” she told the audience. “Thank you on behalf of Marlon Brando”

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Marlon Brando asked Sacheen Littlefeather to reject the Oscar he received for his role in The Godfather. Credit: Allstar Picture Library Limited. / Alamy

Despite being given a significantly limited platform upon which to share her message the young actress’ words were still met with h0rrendous behavior by attendees, including being “heckled with mock ululations and so-called ‘tomahawk chops’ offstage, and thre*tened with ar*est and physical as&ault,” per the Hollywood Reporter.

Offstage, Littlefeather claims that Western actor John Wayne had to be restrained by security guards after lunging at her, with The Guardian reporting that six security guards had to hold him back. Wayne had, only two years prior, told Playb0y magazine that, “Indians were selfishly trying to keep [America] for themselves.”

In an exclusive recent interview with The Academy’s official blog, A.Frame, Littlefeather recalled: “I focused in on the mouths and the jaws that were dropping open in the audience, and there were quite a few.

“But it was like looking into a sea of Clorox, you know, there were very few people of color in the audience,” the 75-year-old continued.

Now, half a century later, the Academy appears to want to make atonement for Littlefeather’s wrongful treatment all those years ago. In a letter written to her by former Academy president David Rubin, the organization has apologized for the “unwarranted and unjustified” abu&e Littlefeather received.

“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,” the letter continued.

It seems Littlefeather had given up on receiving any acknowledgment of her distressing treatment. Speaking to the Hollywood Reporter, Littlefeather revealed: “I was stunned. I never thought I’d live to see the day I would be hearing this, experiencing this.”

Following the apology, The Academy invited Littlefeather to participate in “an evening of conversation, healing, and celebration” as a guest of honor.

In response, the Native American activist joked: “We Indians are very patient people – it’s only been 50 years! We need to keep our sense of humor about this at all times. It’s our method of survival.”

Despite an apology being 50 years in the making, Sacheen Littlefeather’s bravery has been immortalized as a pivotal moment in Native American history.

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