NEW YORK – Nearly 50 years after Sacheen Littlefeather took to the Oscars stage on behalf of Marlon Brando to speak about the portrayal of Native Americans in Hollywood films, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences presented her with her apologies for the abuse she endured.
The Academy Museum of Motion Pictures announced on Monday that it will 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 a buckskin dress and loafers, took the stage, becoming the first Native American woman to do so at the Oscars. In a 60-second speech, she explained that Brando couldn’t accept the award because of “the motion picture industry’s treatment of American Indians today.”
Some in the audience booed her. John Wayne, who was backstage at the time, was reportedly furious. The 1973 Oscars took place during the two-month occupation of Wounded Knee by the American Indian Movement in South Dakota. In the years since, Littlefeather has said she was mocked, discriminated against and personally attacked for her brief Oscar appearance.
In making the announcement, the Academy Museum shared a June 18 letter sent to Littlefeather by Academy President David Rubin about the iconic Oscars moment. Rubin called Littlefeather’s speech “a powerful statement that continues to remind us of the need for respect and the importance of human dignity.”
“The abuse you suffered because of this statement was unwarranted and unwarranted,” Rubin wrote. “The emotional burden you have experienced and the cost of your own career in our industry is irreparable. For too long the courage you have shown has gone unrecognized. For this, we present to you both our most sincere apologies and our sincere admiration.”
Littlefeather, in a statement, said it was “deeply encouraging to see how much everything has changed since I failed to accept the Oscar 50 years ago.”
“As for the Academy’s apologies, we Indians are very patient people – it’s only been 50 years!” said Little Feather. “We have to keep our sense of humor about it at all times. It’s our method of survival.”
At the Academy Museum event in Los Angeles, Littlefeather will participate in a conversation with producer Bird Runningwater, co-chair of the Academy’s Indigenous Alliance.
In a podcast earlier this year with Jacqueline Stewartfilm scholar and director of the Academy Museum, Littlefeather reflected on what prompted her to speak out in 1973.
“I felt there should be Natives, Blacks, Asians, Chicanos — I thought there should be inclusion of everyone,” Littlefeather said. “A rainbow of people who should be involved in creating their own image.”