Watch Live: Motion Picture Academy Apologizes To Sacheen Littlefeather At Celebration Of Native American Culture

Nearly 50 years ago, Marlon Brando refused to attend the Academy Awards ceremony where he was up for top acting honors for his role in The Godfather. Instead, he sent Sacheen Littlefeather to the ceremony with instructions to refuse the Oscar, should his name be called.

On Saturday, in a celebration of Native American culture at the Museum of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the Academy formally apologized for what happened next in that 1973 ceremony.

Littlefeather, at the sold-out event, asked that everyone remember the importance of representation, long after she is no longer with us. She was also presented with a blanket and joked about how they knew she would be cold.

The evening featured performances from the All Nation Singers and Dancers, Steve Bohay (Kiowa/OK) and the Sooner Nation Singers and Dancers, and the White Mountain Apache Crown Dancers (Apache/AZ).

Watch The Live Event

Marlon Brando’s Request

To voice his anger over Hollywood’s habitually racist depictions of indigenous people and to draw attention to the American Indian Movement’s occupation of the South Dakota town of Wounded Knee, Brando sent Littlefeather, an activist, actress and model, to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion stage to decline his best actor trophy.

Read more: Sacheen Littlefeather Talks About What Really Happened Before, During And After Rejecting Marlon Brando’s Oscar

“The reasons for this being are the treatment of American Indians today by the film industry and on television in movie reruns, and also with recent happenings at Wounded Knee,” said Littlefeather, whose father was from the White Mountain Apache and Yaqui tribes of Arizona .

“I beg at this time that I have not intruded upon this evening, and that we will in the future, our hearts and our understandings, will meet with love and generosity. Thank you on behalf of Marlon Brando.”

The Reaction In 1973

Some in the audience booed, others mocked her with tomahawk chops and John Wayne, according to Littlefeather and the ceremony’s director and producer, had to be restrained from trying to rush the stage and accost her.

[Note: While reporting a previous story on this recollection, Ethan Wayne, John Wayne’s son, issued a statement to us, saying in part, “…it’s hard for me to imagine this telling of events, because the man I knew believed in and defended everyone’s right to freedom of speech right up until his death in 1979.”]

Littlefeather subsequently struggled to find work, was harassed and targeted in tasteless smears like this from Dennis Miller, talking about Sen. Elizabeth Warren: “She’s about as much Indian as that stripper chick Brando sent to pick up his Oscar for.” The Godfather.”

In June this year, Littlefeather talked extensively about her experience on LAist Studio’s Academy museum podcast “And The Oscar Goes To….”

Listen To Her Account

1973: “Marlon Brando Cannot Accept This Very Generous Award”

Soon after the release of that podcast, which is co-produced with the Academy Museum, then-Academy president David Rubin wrote a letter to Littlefeather:

“The abuse you endured…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.”

A Formal Apology

On Saturday, the academy will honor and formally apologize to Littlefeather in person during an evening ceremony at its new museum. The academy says the event is dedicated to “conversation, reflection, healing, and celebration.”

The program includes a land acknowledgment, a reading of the Academy’s letter of apology and a conversation between Littlefeather and Bird Runningwater, who co-chairs the academy’s Indigenous Alliance. Among the performers are the San Manuel Bird Singers, Michael Bellanger, the All Nation Singers and Dancers and the Sooner Nation Singers and Dancers.

While the event is sold out, it can be live-streamed here.

Littlefeather, now 75, plans to be in attendance.

What questions do you have about film, TV, music, or arts and entertainment?

John Horn hosts our weekly podcast Retake, asking: Do the stories that Hollywood tells about itself really reflect what’s going on?

Leave a Comment