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Academy Apologizes to Sacheen Littlefeather Nearly 50 Years After She Refused Marlon Brando’s Oscar

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has apologized to Sacheen Littlefeather for how she was treated following her participation at the 1973 Academy Awards, when she declined Marlon Brando’s Oscar on his behalf.

The group addressed an official letter to Littlefeather (Apache/Yaqui/Ariz.) in June, apologizing for the “unwarranted and unjustified” persecution she endured as a consequence of her broadcast Oscars attendance.

During the 45th Academy Awards ceremony in March 1973, in one of the most dramatic moments in Oscar history, Brando chose not to receive his Best Actor prize for his work in “The Godfather.” In protest of Hollywood’s often disrespectful and racist portrayal of Native Americans in cinema, he refused to enter the stage. Rather, he sent Littlefeather to represent him at the event.

Littlefeather, who was 26 at the time, spoke out against the entertainment industry’s ridicule of Native Americans as she entered the stage. He regrettably cannot receive this extremely wonderful prize, she explained at the time. And the reasons for this are the film industry’s current portrayal of American Indians.

Despite the fact that Brando had given her several pages, she was only allowed to deliver a 60-second speech, as ordered by the ceremony’s producer, Howard Koch. Koch also informed Littlefeather that if she went over a minute, she would be detained by security.

Littlefeather faced blowback as a response to her television address, both while and after it aired, and for many years afterwards.

Littlefeather earlier stated that John Wayne, who was in the audience, tried to forcefully pull her off the stage and had to be “held back” by security. The government reportedly threatened to shut down any discussion shows or projects that would offer her airtime.

Littlefeather, 75, has finally gotten an apology from the Academy five decades later.

When she stood on the Oscars stage in 1973 to not acknowledge the Oscar on behalf of Marlon Brando, in awareness of the misrepresentation and mistreatment of Native American people by the film industry, she made a very strong statement that continues to remind them of the requirement of respect and the value of human dignity, said the letter, signed by then -Academy president David Rubin.

The abuse she received as a result of your comment was unwanted and inappropriate, the note went on to say. The emotional toll she has endured, as well as the cost to her own profession in their field, are irreversible. For far too long, her bravery has gone unnoticed. They sincerely apologize and express their admiration for this.

Littlefeather responded to the organization’s “long delayed” apologies in an interview saying she was “shocked” to read the letter.

She never believed she’d live to hear or experience something like this, she remarked. When she stood on the stage in 1973, she was alone.

Littlefeather, who has advanced breast cancer, subsequently said, She never stepped up onstage in 1973 to accept any type of award. She was only there because her forefathers were present, and she stated the truth.

Yes, there is an apology in order. As her Native American friends put it, it’s long late, she stated. She  may have died by now. All of her buddies have died, including [activists] Dennis Banks, Russell Means, John Trudell, and [comedian] Charlie Hill.

Littlefeather’s husband, Charles Koishway, died of blood cancer in November, but his spirit is always here with her, she says, adding, she believes that what he wanted for he was always justice and peace.

When asked what she feels about the producer of the 1973 Oscars and other individuals who did not interfere that night while she was humiliated, Litterfeather chuckled and replied, her ancestors, she is sure, spoke to them on her behalf when they arrived on the other side. And she is sure Mr. Charles went over there right away and spoke with them. She is  convinced John Wayne was his first target.

The Academy’s apology letter will be read next month at an event dubbed “An Evening with Sacheen Littlefeather” at the Academy Museum. During the occasion, she will be accompanied for a talk with producer Bird Runningwater, co-chair of the Academy’s Indigenous Alliance.

The Academy’s complete apology may be seen here below.

June 18, 2022

Dear Sacheen Littlefeather,

I write to you today a letter that has been a long time coming on behalf of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, with humble acknowledgment of your experience at the 45th Academy Awards.

As you stood on the Oscars stage in 1973 to not accept the Oscar on behalf of Marlon Brando, in recognition of the misrepresentation and mistreatment of Native American people by the film industry, you made a powerful statement that continues to remind us of the necessity of respect and the importance of human dignity.

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.

We cannot realize the Academy’s mission to “inspire imagination and connect the world through cinema” without a commitment to facilitating the broadest representation and inclusion reflective of our diverse global population.

Today, nearly 50 years later, and with the guidance of the Academy’s Indigenous Alliance, we are firm in our commitment to ensuring indigenous voices—the original storytellers—are visible, respected contributors to the global film community. We are dedicated to fostering a more inclusive, respectful industry that leverages a balance of art and activism to be a driving force for progress.

We hope you receive this letter in the spirit of reconciliation and as recognition of your essential role in our journey as an organization.  You are forever respectfully ingrained in our history.

With warmest regards, David Rubin
President, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences


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