Littlefeather recounts price of native activism

Sacheen Littlefeather, the actor who stood in for Marlon Brando at the 1973 Oscars, says she paid a high price for her criticism of Hollywood portrayals of First Nations people.

Actor promotes Canadian doc Reel Injun for U.S. audiences

Sacheen Littlefeather, the actor who stood in for Marlon Brando at the 1973 Oscars, says she paid a high price for her criticism of Hollywood portrayals of First Nations people.

Littlefeather, now 63, said that act of advocacy cut her acting career short and put her life at risk.

She was speaking to TV critics in a promotion for Reel Injun: On the Trail of the Hollywood Indian, a Canadian-made documentary that is to air on PBS's Independent Lens in November.

The documentary, made by Neil Diamond of Waskaganish, Que., interviews Littlefeather and other native actors such as Adam Beach about their experiences in Hollywood.

Littlefeather declined Brando's best actor award for The Godfather at the 1973 Academy Awards on his behalf and then improvised a short speech about the poor portrayal of native people in film.

Brando himself had presented her with a 15-page speech on the subject, which she later presented to reporters.

The incident provoked the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences to introduce stronger rules against proxy acceptance of Academy Awards.

Littlefeather later had roles in Shoot the Sun Down and Winterhawk, but said most opportunities dried up for her.

She accused the U.S. government of telling the entertainment industry to avoid hiring her as part of its efforts to discourage American Indian activism.

She also said that bullets were fired at Brando's door when she visited the actor. No one was injured.

Diamond says his documentary showed some progress in portrayal of Indians on film, but he referred to James Cameron's Avatar as "Dances with Pocahontas in Space" in an interview with CBC.

Reel Injun screened at the Toronto International Film Festival and screened on Canadian TV on CBC's The Passionate Eye.

With files from The Associated Press