Academy apologizes to Sacheen Littlefeather for abuse she endured after 1973 Oscars speech

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Academy apologizes to Sacheen Littlefeather for abuse she endured after 1973 Oscars speech

Nearly 50 years after Sacheen Littlefeather took the Oscars stage to protest the film industry's treatment of Native American people, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has issued an apology for her subsequent experience in Hollywood.

In a letter sent to Littlefeather in June and made public Monday, former Academy president David Rubin called Littlefeather's speech — which she gave at the 1973 ceremony, after refusing the Best Actor Oscar on behalf of Marlon Brando — 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," he continued. "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."

Rubin concluded, "We hope you receive this letter in the spirit of reconciliation and as recognition of your essential role in our journey as an organization. You are forever respectfully engrained in our history."

Sacheen Littlefeather at the Oscars
Sacheen Littlefeather at the Oscars

Bettmann/Getty Images Sacheen Littlefeather at the Oscars

The Academy also announced an event titled "An Evening with Sacheen Littlefeather," billed as a "very special program of conversation, reflection, healing, and celebration" with the activist set to take place at the Academy Museum on Sept. 17.

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

She added, "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 lnstitute's commitment to Indigenous filmmakers for twenty years through the lnstitute'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."

When Brando won the Best Actor prize for The Godfather, he sent the then-26-year-old Native American activist and aspiring actress to the stage at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, where her words were met with a mixture of confusion, booing, and applause. Littlefeather explained that Brando wasn't interested in accepting the award due to "the treatment of American Indians today by the film industry"; she also called attention to the protest that was then underway at Wounded Knee.

"I beg at this time that I have not intruded upon this evening," she said, "and that we will, in the future, our hearts and our understandings will meet with love and generosity."

Littlefeather's motivation and identity were subsequently questioned by some industry figures, including John Wayne. "If [Brando] had something to say, he should have appeared that night and stated his views instead of taking some little unknown girl and dressing her up in an Indian outfit," Wayne reportedly said.

Speaking to EW in 2013, Littlefeather responded to the years of mockery she endured. "It goes back to the time of the Romans," she said. "If you didn't like the message, you kill the messenger."

Read the Academy's full apology to Littlefeather below.

June 18, 2022

Dear Sacheen Littlefeather,

I write to you today a letter that has been a long time coming on behalf of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, with humble acknowledgment of your experience at the 45th Academy Awards.

As you stood on the Oscars stage in 1973 to not accept the Oscar on behalf of Marlon Brando, in recognition of the misrepresentation and mistreatment of Native American people by the film industry, 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. 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.

We cannot realize the Academy's mission to "inspire imagination and connect the world through cinema" without a commitment to facilitating the broadest representation and inclusion reflective of our diverse global population.

Today, nearly 50 years later, and with the guidance of the Academy's Indigenous Alliance, we are firm in our commitment to ensuring indigenous voices-the original storytellers-are visible, respected contributors to the global film community. We are dedicated to fostering a more inclusive, respectful industry that leverages a balance of art and activism to be a driving force for progress.

We hope you receive this letter in the spirit of reconciliation and as recognition of your essential role in our journey as an organization. You are forever respectfully engrained in our history.

With warmest regards,

David Rubin

President, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

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