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Rejecting Brando's Oscar cost her dearly, but Sacheen Littlefeather is finally getting her apology

Nearly 50 years after Sacheen Littlefeather stood on the Academy Awards stage on behalf of Marlon Brando to speak about the depiction of Indigenous people in Hollywood films, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences apologized to her for the abuse she endured.

Activist delivered 60-second speech to explain why Marlon Brando wouldn't accept best actor award

In this March 27, 1973, file photo, Sacheen Littlefeather tells the audience at the Academy Awards ceremony that Marlon Brando was declining to accept his Oscar as best actor for his role in The Godfather. (The Associated Press)

Nearly 50 years after Sacheen Littlefeather stood on the Academy Awards stage on behalf of Marlon Brando to speak about the depiction of Indigenous people in Hollywood films, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences apologized to her for the abuse she endured.

The Academy Museum of Motion Pictures on Monday said that it will host Littlefeather, now 75, for an evening of "conversation, healing and celebration" on Sept. 17.

When Brando won the best actor award for The Godfather, Littlefeather, wearing a buckskin dress and moccasins, took the stage, becoming the first Indigenous woman ever to do so at the Academy Awards. In a 60-second speech, she explained that Brando could not accept the award due to "the treatment of American Indians today by the film industry."

Subjected to discrimination, attack

Some in the audience booed her. John Wayne, who was backstage at the time, was reportedly furious. The 1973 Oscars were held during the American Indian Movement's two-month occupation of Wounded Knee in South Dakota. In the years since, Littlefeather has said she's been mocked, discriminated against and personally attacked for her brief Academy Awards appearance.

In making the announcement, the Academy Museum shared a letter sent June 18 to Littlefeather by David Rubin, then academy president, about the iconic Oscar moment. Rubin called Littlefeather's speech "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," wrote Rubin. "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."

WATCH | Sacheen Littlefeather's 1973 speech was a powerful moment in Oscar history: 

Littlefeather, in a statement, said it is "profoundly heartening to see how much has changed since I did not accept the Academy Award 50 years ago."

"Regarding the Academy's apology to me, we Indians are very patient people — it's only been 50 years!" said Littlefeather. "We need to keep our sense of humor about this at all times. It's our method of survival."

At the Academy Museum event in Los Angeles, Littlefeather will sit for a conversation with producer Bird Runningwater, co-chair of the academy's Indigenous Alliance.

In a podcast earlier this year with Jacqueline Stewart, a film scholar and director of the Academy Museum, Littlefeather reflected on what compelled her to speak out in 1973.

"I felt that there should be Native people, Black people, Asian people, Chicano people — I felt there should be an inclusion of everyone," said Littlefeather. "A rainbow of people that should be involved in creating their own image."

WATCH | Sacheen Littlefeather accepts apology from Academy of Motion Pictures: 

Academy apologizes to Indigenous woman who rejected Marlon Brando’s Oscar on his behalf

1 month ago
Duration 2:02
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has apologized to Sacheen Littlefeather for how she was treated when she refused Marlon Brando’s 1973 Oscar on his behalf. Brando had invited Littlefeather, an Apache and Yaqui actress and activist, to use the opportunity to speak about the depiction of Indigenous people in Hollywood films.

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