NEW YORK – Nearly 50 years after Sacheen Littlefeather stood on the Oscars stage on behalf of Marlon Brando to speak about the depiction of Native Americans in Hollywood films, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences apologized to her for the abuse she endured.
The Academy Film Museum on Monday said it will host Littlefeather, now 75, for an evening of “talk, healing and celebration” on September 17.
When Brando won the best actor award for Godfather, Littlefeather, wearing a deerskin dress and moccasins, took to the stage, becoming the first Native American woman to ever do so at the Oscars. In her 60-second speech, she explained that Brando was unable to accept the award due to “the film industry’s treatment of American Indians today.”
Some in the audience booed her. John Wayne, who was backstage at the time, is said to be furious. The 1973 Academy Awards ceremony was held during the two months of the American Indian Movement Occupying Wounded Knees in South Dakota. In the years since, Littlefeather said she has been mocked, discriminated against and personally attacked for her brief appearance at the Oscars.
In making this announcement, the Academy Museum shared a letter to Littlefeather June 18 by David Rubin, the academy’s president, 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 have suffered because of this claim is baseless and unfounded,” Rubin wrote. “The emotional burden you’ve been through and the price you’ve paid for your own career in our industry is irreparable. It’s been too long since the bravery you showed has gone unrecognized. For For this, we extend our deepest apologies and sincere admiration.”
Littlefeather, in a statement, said it was “a profound joy to see how much I’ve changed since I didn’t receive the Academy Award 50 years ago.”
“As for the Academy’s apology to me, we Indians are very patient people – only 50 years old!” Littlefeather said. “We need to keep a 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 down with the producer Bird Runningwater, co-chair of the academy’s Indigenous Alliance.
In a podcast earlier this year with Jacqueline StewartA film scholar and director of the Academy Museums, Littlefeather reflected on what prompted her to speak out in 1973.
Littlefeather said: “I felt that there was a need to be indigenous, black, Asian, Chicano – I felt there was a need to include everyone. “A rainbow of people should participate in creating their own image.”