NEW YORK — Nearly 50 years after Sachin Littlefeather stood on stage at the Academy Awards on behalf of Marlon Brando to speak out about the portrayal of Native Americans in Hollywood films, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has apologized to her for the mistreatment she suffered.
The Academy of Motion Pictures Museum said Monday it will host Littlefeather, now 75, for an evening of “conversation, healing and celebration” on Sept. 17.
When Brando won Best Actor for Godfather, Littlefeather, wearing a deerskin dress and loafers, took the stage, becoming the first Native American woman to ever do so at the Academy Awards. In a 60-second speech, she explained that Brando could not accept the award because of “the treatment of American Indians today by the film industry.”
Some in the audience booed her. John Wayne, who was backstage at the time, was reportedly furious. The 1973 Oscars took place during the American Indian Movement’s two-month occupation Wounded Knee in South Dakota. In the years since, Littlefeather said she has been mocked, discriminated against and personally attacked for her brief appearance at the Academy Awards.
In making the announcement, the Academy Museum shared a letter sent June 18 to Littlefeather by David Rubin, president of the academy, regarding the iconic Oscar moment. Rubin called Littlefeather’s speech “a powerful statement that continues to remind us of the need for respect and the importance of human dignity.”
“The abuse you suffered because of this statement was unwarranted and unwarranted,” Rubin wrote. “The emotional toll you have been through and the cost to your own career in our industry is irreparable. For too long the courage you have shown has gone unrecognized. For that we offer both our deepest apologies and our sincere admiration.”
Littlefeather said in a statement that it was “extremely encouraging to see how much has changed since I accepted the Academy Award 50 years ago.”
“As for the Academy’s apology to me, we Indians are very patient people – it’s only been 50 years!” said Littlefeather. “We have to keep our sense of humor about this all the time. This is our method of survival.”
At the event at the Los Angeles Academy Museum, Littlefeather will sit down for a conversation with producer Bird Runningwater, co-chair of the Academy’s Indigenous Alliance.
in podcast earlier this year with Jacqueline Stewartfilm scholar and director of the Academy Museum, Littlefeather reflects on what compelled her to speak out in 1973.
“I felt there should be Native people, black people, Asian people, Chicano people — I felt there should be inclusion of everybody,” Littlefeather said. “A rainbow of people who have to be involved in creating their own image.”
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