Nearly 50 Years Later, Academy Awards Issues Apology For “Unjustified Abuse”

in Movies & TV

sacheen littlefeather with marlon brando on 1973 academy awards stage

Credit: Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

After nearly 50 years, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences issued an official apology to Sacheen Littlefeather following the 1973 Academy Awards.

Native American Sacheen Littlefeather speaks at the 45th Academy Awards. On behalf of Marlon Brando, she refused the Best Actor award he was awarded for his role in Godfather. Brando refused the award because of the treatment by the Americans of the American Indian.
Credit: ABC

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Littlefeather, at Marlon Brando’s request, did not accept his Best Actor award for The Godfather (1972) and, instead, gave an impassioned 60-second speech regarding the stereotypes surrounding Native Americans in film and television.

Per an official release, the Academy shared:

She also brought attention to the 1973 Wounded Knee protest in South Dakota. This moment resulted in her being professionally boycotted, personally attacked and harassed, and discriminated against for the last 50 years.

Littlefeather’s speech is highlighted in the museum’s Academy Awards History gallery, and she was interviewed this spring by Jacqueline Stewart, Director and President of the Academy Museum, for the Academy Museum Podcast episode “Marlon Brando Cannot Accept this Very Generous Award” about the 1973 Oscars®, the Academy’s A.frame article, and a Visual History as part of the Academy’s Oral History Projects (to be released in September 2022). In June, Littlefeather was presented with a statement of apology, signed by former Academy President David Rubin.

The apology, in part, reads, “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.”

From left, Aurora Mamea, Sacheen Littlefeather and Jonathan Lucero attend a ceremony to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Native American occupation of Alcatraz Island in San Francisco, Calif. on Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2019. Best known for refusing to accept the Oscar for Academy Award-winning actor Marlon Brando on his behalf in 1973, Littlefeather briefly occupied the island along with Lucero.
Credit: ABC

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Littlefeather has accepted the Academy’s remorse, saying:

“Regarding the Academy’s apology to me, we Indians are very patient people—it’s only been 50 years! We need to keep our sense of humor about this at all times. It’s our method of survival. I never thought I’d live to see the day for this program to take place, featuring such wonderful Native performers and Bird Runningwater, a television and film producer who also guided the Sundance Institute’s commitment to Indigenous filmmakers for twenty years through the Institute’s Labs and Sundance Film Festival. This is a dream come true. It is profoundly heartening to see how much has changed since I did not accept the Academy Award 50 years ago. I am so proud of each and every person who will appear on stage.”

You can watch Littlefeather’s entire 1973 speech below:

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The Academy Museum of Motion Pictures will be hosting an “An Evening with Sacheen Littlefeather, a very special program of conversation, reflection, healing, and celebration with Sacheen Littlefeather (Apache/Yaqui/AZ) on September 17, 2022.”

The Godfather films are distributed by Paramount Pictures. Brando died on July 1, 2004, and did not live to see Littlefeather receive an apology.

What are your thoughts on the Academy apologizing to Sacheen Littlefeather after all these years?

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