The Academy apologizes to Sacheen Littlefeather for 1973 Oscars

"It is profoundly heartening to see how much has changed," Littlefeather said.

August 15, 2022, 6:38 PM

The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences has formally apologized to actress Sacheen Littlefeather, who was met with boos from the audience at the 45th Academy Awards in 1973, for her speech about Hollywood's mistreatment of Native Americans.

David Rubin, former president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, addressed Littlefeather in a letter dated June 18, acknowledging what happened at the 45th Academy Awards. The letter was shared in full on the Academy's website on Monday.

PHOTO: Sacheen Littlefeather refuses the Academy Award for Best Actor on behalf of Marlon Brando at the Oscars ceremony in Los Angeles, March 27, 1973.
Sacheen Littlefeather refuses the Academy Award for Best Actor on behalf of Marlon Brando at the Oscars ceremony in Los Angeles, March 27, 1973.
Bettmann Archive/Getty Images, FILE

"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," Rubin wrote.

"The abuse you endured because of this statement was unwarranted and unjustified," Rubin 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."

Littlefeather was vaulted into the spotlight in March 1973 after she was asked by actor Marlon Brando to appear at the Academy Awards on his behalf and refuse the Best Actor Oscar for his performance in "The Godfather."

Brando had chosen not to attend that year's Oscars in protest of the federal government's response to the Wounded Knee occupation in February that year, in which members of the American Indian Movement seized the town of Wounded Knee, South Dakota, on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation for 71 days, to demand the U.S. government fulfill earlier treaties made with the Native American people in the 19th century and early 20th century, among other things.

The Native American civil rights activist, model and actress, who became a member of the Screen Actors Guild in 1973, took the stage that night and gave a short speech on Brando's behalf about how Native Americans in the entertainment industry had been mistreated, briefly noting the protest taking place at Wounded Knee.

PHOTO: Activist Sacheen Littlefeather attends the Q&A at the SAG President's National Task Force For American Indians & NBC Universal Premiere Screening Of "Reel indian" & "American Indian Actors" At LA Skins Fest in Los Angeles, Nov. 20, 2010.
Activist Sacheen Littlefeather attends the Q&A at the SAG President's National Task Force For American Indians & NBC Universal Premiere Screening Of "Reel indian" & "American Indian Actors" At LA Skins Fest in Los Angeles, Nov. 20, 2010.
Valerie Macon/Getty Images, FILE

"I'm representing Marlon Brando this evening and he has asked me to tell you in a very long speech, which I cannot share with you presently because of time, but I will be glad to share with the press afterwards, that he very regretfully cannot accept this very generous award," Littlefeather said at the time.

"And 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."

Littlefeather continued to speak despite a growing chorus of boos from the crowd, as well as some applause.

"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," she continued. "Thank you on behalf of Marlon Brando."

Following that night, Littlefeather said she was blacklisted by Hollywood, telling Women in the World in 2016 that many in the industry had said they couldn't hire her "or their productions would be shut down."

Now, nearly 50 years later, the Academy is apologizing to Littlefeather and recognizing her with an event at the Academy Museum.

The event, "An Evening with Sacheen Littlfeather," takes place Sept. 17 and will include a conversation about the now-infamous moment.

"An Evening with Sacheen Littlefeather will encourage reflection on the historic evening in 1973 and focus on a future founded on healing and celebration," a press release for the event stated. "The event, programmed by Sacheen Littlefeather and produced by Academy Museum Vice President of Education and Public Engagement Amy Homma, is part of the museum’s ongoing dedication to create programs and exhibitions in partnership with film artists and communities that illuminate the entertainment industry’s past and pave the way for meaningful change in its future."

"Regarding the Academy's apology to me, we Indians are very patient people -- it's only been 50 years!" Littlefeather said in a statement about the upcoming event. "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," she added. "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."

"An Evening with Sacheen Littlefeather" will take place on Sept. 17, 2022 at the Academy Museum in Los Angeles.

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