75-year-old Sacheen Littlefeather, Who Delivered Marlon Brando’s Oscar-rejection Speech, Has Passed Away.
The Native American actress and activist Sacheen Littlefeather (Apache/Yaqui/Arizona), who walked the stage at the 1973 Academy Awards to announce that Marlon Brando would not accept his Oscar for The Godfather, has passed away. Littlefeather was of Apache and Yaqui ancestry. Her age was 75.
According to a statement that was distributed by her caretaker, Littlefeather passed away on Sunday at noon at her residence in the city of Novato, which is located in the northern part of the state of California. She was surrounded by her loved ones. On Sunday night, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences broke the news about Littlefeather’s passing via social media. This comes after the organisation repaired its relationship with Littlefeather in June and held a party in her honour just two weeks earlier.
Littlefeather revealed in March 2018 that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer that had progressed to the stage 4 metastatic stage and that it had spread throughout her body in recent years.
Brando had made the decision to abstain from attending the Oscars in March 1973 in order to voice his disapproval of the way Native Americans were portrayed in films and to show his support for the ongoing occupation at Wounded Knee. At that time, two hundred members of the American Indian Movement (AIM) were engaged in a standoff with thousands of U.S. marshals and other federal agents in the town of Wounded Knee, South Dakota.
Littlefeather, who was 26 at the time and wearing a traditional Apache dress, walked to the stage from her seat at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion as the announcer explained, “Accepting the award for Marlon Brando and The Godfather, Miss Sacheen Littlefeather.” This happened after presenters Liv Ullmann and Roger Moore listed the nominees for best actor and Ullmann called out Brando’s name as the winner.
However, as Littlefeather approached the podium, she politely declined the statuette that Moore had extended to her and informed the Chandler audience as well as the 85 million viewers watching at home that Brando “very regretfully cannot accept this very generous award.” Littlefeather held up her right hand to indicate her refusal of Moore’s offer.
She continued by saying, “And the reasons for this being the treatment of American Indians today by the film industry… and on television in movie reruns, and also with recent happenings at Wounded Knee,” speaking in measured tones but off-the-cuff. Brando, who had told her not to touch the trophy, had given her a typed eight-page speech, but telecast producer Howard Koch informed her she had no more than sixty seconds. Brando had told her not to touch the trophy.
Three days later, the entirety of Brando’s speech was published in its entirety by the New York Times.
The audience in the building responded to Littlefeather’s comments with a mix of booing and clapping, but the general reaction of the people in the moments immediately following her presence was overwhelmingly unfavourable. It was reported that conservative celebrities such as John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, and Charlton Heston — three actors who had starred in many Westerns — criticised Brando and Littlefeather’s actions. Her father was Apache and Yaqui, and her mother was white. Some media outlets questioned her Native heritage and claimed she rented her costume for the ceremony.
She told the Los Angeles Times in 2016 that Wayne “was in the wings, ready to have me taken off stage” as she was becoming an indelible part of Oscar lore. “Six security guards were required to restrain him,” the sentence said. An investigation revealed that might not have been the situation at all.
In spite of this, the Academy finally gave her an apology nearly half a century after the incident.
In a letter to her dated June 18, the previous president of AMPAS, David Rubin, wrote to her that the harassment she had to go through as a result of her speech was “unwarranted and unjustified.” “The mental anguish you’ve had to bear and the damage done to your reputation as a professional in our sector will not be able to be undone. Your bravery, which has been on display for far too long, has gone unrecognised. Because of this, we extend not only our most sincere gratitude but also our most sincere regrets.