Nearly 50 years after actress Sacheen Littlefeather (Apache and Yaqui from Arizona) took to the stage at the Oscars on behalf of Marlon Brando and declined an award at his request, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences has apologised to her for the discrimination and backlash that followed.
Littlefeather, who has today welcomed the apology, was booed off the podium in 1973 as she peacefully highlighted the mistreatment of Native Americans in the entertainment industry as well as “The Wounded Knee standoff” between law enforcement and the American Indian Movement.
“[Marlon Brando] very regretfully cannot accept this very generous award,” she had said to the audience. “And the reasons for this being the treatment of American Indians today by the film industry, excuse me, and on television in movie reruns, and also with recent happenings at Wounded Knee.”
In a letter shared by Academy President David Rubin, dated 18 June 2022, the organisation has finally acknowledged the “unwarranted and unjustified” abuse Littlefeather has endured for years:
“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.”
The statement will be read in full at an Academy Museum event honouring Littlefeather on September 17, involving co-chair of the Academy’s Indigenous Alliance, Bird Runningwater (Cheyenne and Mescalero Apache from New Mexico).
“Regarding the Academy’s apology to me, we Indians are very patient people—it’s only been 50 years!” Littlefeather says in a statement shared on the Academy’s blog. “We need to keep our sense of humour about this at all times. It’s our method of survival.”
She adds that the event in her honour “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.”
(Feature Image Credit: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)