The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has apologized to Sacheen Littlefeather, a Native American actress and activist who was booed offstage after she refused actor Marlon Brando’s Oscar on his behalf in 1973. Nearly 50 years later, the Academy released an official statement signed by Academy President David Rubin, describing Littlefeather’s 1973 performance as “a strong message that continues to remind us of the imperative of respect and the value of human dignity.”
The actress was also lauded for her bravery in the apology, which criticized the actress’s previous abuse:
“The abuse you received as a result of your comment was unfair and unnecessary.” The emotional toll you’ve endured, as well as the cost to your own career in our field, are irreversible. For far too long, your bravery has gone unnoticed. We sincerely apologize and express our admiration for this.”
Sacheen Littlefeather appreciated The Academy’s apologies and discussed the statement with The Hollywood Reporter. She stated:
“As for the Academy’s apologies to me, we Indians are a patient people – it’s only been 50 years!” We must maintain our sense of humor at all times. It’s our only means of survival.”
1973: Native American actor Sacheen Littlefeather boo’d (and cheered) by Hollywood at the Oscars before being mocked by Clint Eastwood and almost physically assaulted by John Wayne simply for asking that Indigenous people not to be dehumanized in film.pic.twitter.com/BgOiuBq4hR
— rafael shimunov (@rafaelshimunov) October 11, 2021
The activist also stated that she did not believe she would live to see The Academy apologize for the 1973 incident:
“I never believed I’d see the day.” This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It’s encouraging to see how much has changed in the 50 years since I didn’t accept the Academy Award.”
In 1973, veteran actor Marlon Brando turned down his Best Actor Oscar nomination for The Godfather in order to protest the exploitation of Native American actors in Hollywood and to call attention to the Wounded Knee conflict. During the 1973 Oscars ceremony, Brando sent Sacheen Littlefeather, President of the National Native American Affirmative Image Committee at the time, to decline the prize on his behalf to raise awareness of the Wounded Knee massacre.
What was the Wounded Knee occupation in 1973?
The second Wounded Knee Occupation was a high-profile protest action led by over 200 Oglala Lakota and American Indian Movement (AIM) members. The occupation started on February 27, 1973, when demonstrators took over the hamlet of Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. The demonstration arose when the Oglala Sioux Civil Rights Organization (OSCRO) failed to impeach then-tribal president Richard Wilson, who was accused of abusing opponents and engaging in various forms of corruption. Protesters also chastised the United States government for failing to honor treaties with Native Americans.
Protest organizers also demanded authorities renew treaty discussions in order to ensure “fair and equal treatment of Native Americans.” The campaign received considerable media coverage and public support, and many Native Americans traveled to Wounded Knee to support the protest.
The Pine Ridge Indian Reservation was apparently chosen for symbolic importance by the demonstrators since it was the place where 90 Lakota were previously slaughtered by the US army in 1890. The group controlled the town for 71 days before leaving in May 1973 after reaching a disarmament deal with federal authorities.
What did Sacheen Littlefeather have to say about Marlon Brando’s Oscar denial?
During the ongoing Wounded Knee standoff in 1973, Native American actress Sacheen Littlefeather mounted the stage at the Academy Awards ceremony to refuse the Best Actor Award on behalf of Marlon Brando. Littlefeather, then 26, was booed when she entered the Oscars event wearing a traditional Native American dress. She went on to say that Brando declined to receive his prize because he wanted to raise awareness about how American Indians are treated in Hollywood:
“He [Brando] regrettably cannot receive this really kind honor.” And the grounds for this include the film industry’s current portrayal of American Indians.”
Littlefeather proceeded to speak onstage on Brando’s behalf and read his self-written letter:
“I request forgiveness at this moment for intruding on this evening, and that in the future, our hearts and our understandings will meet with love and kindness.” “On behalf of Marlon Brando, thank you.”
According to reports, actor John Wayne was restrained by security during Sacheen Littlefeather’s speech because he tried to assault the actress. Clint Eastwood attacked her remarks as well, stating he was there for “all the cowboys shot in all the John Ford Westerns.” While speaking to The Guardian last year, Sacheen Littlefeather recounted the 1973 Oscars and verified that Wayne reportedly tried to harm her:
“During my presentation, he [John Wayne] was approaching me to forcefully remove me from the platform, and he had to be held by six security personnel to prevent him from doing so.”
Due to the increasing confrontations, the activist stated she had to be removed from the venue:
“Some armed guards took me off the stage. Fortunately, John Wayne was standing in the wings, ready to drag me off the platform, and he had to be restrained by six security guards because he was so incensed by what I had said.”
The Academy has finally apologized to Sacheen Littlefeather over the 1973 Oscars incident, almost five decades later.