The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences decided to officially apologize to actress and activist Sacheen Littlefeather for her abysmal treatment at the 1973 Academy Awards Ceremony—after only 49 years.
The Academy has faced increasing backlash over the last several years for incidents of racial bias and sexism in nominations and award winners.
Littlefeather, who is Apache and Yaqui, appeared at the awards on behalf of Marlon Brando to decline his Oscar for his appearance in The Godfather.
Brando decided to decline the award in protest of the egregious treatment of Indigenous peoples in film and TV, as well as the willful misrepresentation of their cultures and traditional clothing for the entertainment of the masses.
Not only was Littlefeather booed and heckled during her speech at the awards, she was subsequently mocked by Clint Eastwood on-stage when he came to present the next award.
Producer Bird Runningwater—co-chair of the Academy's Indigenous Alliance—approached Littlefeather on the Academy's behalf.
Littlefeather joked about Runningwater's initial contact on behalf of the Academy at the beginning of this reconcilliation process:
"Bird gave me a call—on the phone, of course. He tried to send smoke signals but they wouldn’t fit underneath the door."
After that initial contact, Littlefeather remained in contact with Runningwater and Academy Inclusion Advisory Committee member Heather Rae.
Of the apology, which was initially presented to her privately in June, Littlefeather said:
"I was stunned. I never thought I’d live to see the day I would be hearing this, experiencing this. When I was at the podium in 1973, I stood there alone."
When declining the award for Brando, she brought attention to the mistreatment and misrepresentation of Native peoples in film and TV, as well as to the American Indian Movement and Oglala Lakota activist occupation of the South Dakota town of Wounded Knee—which was ongoing at the time.
Matters pertaining to the occupation of Wounded Knee were under a media blackout imposed by the Department of Justice at the time, so many had likely not heard of the protest.
Just prior to mounting the stage, Littlefeather was threatened with arrest by Howard Koch if she exceeded 60 seconds on-stage for Brando's refusal message.
Brando had apparently prepared 8 pages of remarks for Littlefeather to read, but she knew she would not have time to read them.
So she improvised.
"He very regretfully cannot accept this very generous award."
"And the reasons for this being are the treatment of American Indians today by the film industry [booing/heckling by the audience begins and Littlefeather pauses to collect herself]—excuse me—and on television in movie reruns, and also with recent happenings at Wounded Knee."
You can view a clip of how Littlefeather was treated during the 1973 Oscars below:
\u201cJust a reminder that it took 6 security guards to keep John Wayne from rushing the stage and attack Sacheen Littlefeather at the Academy Awards while Clint Eastwood mocked her request of TV and Film industry to treat indigenous people as humans.\u201d— AskAubry \ud83e\udd9d (@AskAubry \ud83e\udd9d) 1660625821
\u201c@ask_aubry Eastwood personifying white supremacy here. The boys club that it is. Mock and dismiss. "Get a load of this Indian" He implies in his BS "joke" He felt his/their power get checked and couldn't handle it. As we continue to see today. The most insecure, the white man.\u201d— AskAubry \ud83e\udd9d (@AskAubry \ud83e\udd9d) 1660625821
Not shown in the above video were the threats of violence made by an inebriated John Wayne after Littlefeather's speech. He reportedly had to be restrained from mounting the stage and physically attacking her in the wings.
Boos and threats of violence during the awards ceremony weren't the only backlash Littlefeather endured for Brando's activism. In the proceeding months, her character and integrity were maligned.
In addition, Littlefeather reported the US government threatened to shut down any productions that featured Littlefeather—including talk shows.
\u201c\ud83d\udea8BREAKING NEWS: Nearly half a century later, Sacheen Littlefeather will return to the #Oscars as an invited guest of honor & for a formal apology from the \n@TheAcademy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.\nhttps://t.co/QHOBDIm4Wb\u201d— IllumiNative (@IllumiNative) 1660589126
\u201cThe Academy apologized to Sacheen Littlefeather for abuse she faced at the 1973 Oscars, where she was booed for protesting mistreatment of Indigenous people.\n\nShe was there to reject Marlon Brando's Oscar. Backstage, she faced racist heckling and threats of violence and arrest.\u201d— AJ+ (@AJ+) 1660591113
David Rubin, who was president of the Academy at the time, wrote in the letter of apology dated June 18:
"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."
The general sentiment on Twitter was the Academy took it's sweet time to decide to apologize.
\u201c@ismaillagardien @LakotaMan1 John Wayne was no hero , every body should know that by now\u201d— Lakota Man (@Lakota Man) 1660607914
\u201c@MarkRuffalo It was a looong time coming. I\u2019m glad for her. \ud83d\ude0a\u201d— Mark Ruffalo (@Mark Ruffalo) 1660680394
\u201c@minibitty @LakotaMan1 @PrincessBravato Can\u2019t forget\u201d— Lakota Man (@Lakota Man) 1660607914
\u201c@adhd_teacher @LakotaMan1 Especially damning when they know Wayne has been dead for over 40 of them, there was nothing stopping them issuing the apology at the first Oscars ceremony after his death\u201d— Lakota Man (@Lakota Man) 1660607914
\u201c@bford2 @LakotaMan1 I remember how she was treated. Hard to fathom these days when we have become more diverse. Why we don't honor tribal agreements means better negotiations needed with better lawyers. Never give up. \u2764\ufe0f\u201d— Lakota Man (@Lakota Man) 1660607914
\u201c@lcloganlives @LakotaMan1 Give all they'd been through over the centuries I'm sure it was a walk in the park.\u201d— Lakota Man (@Lakota Man) 1660607914
\u201c@FilmUpdates they\u2019re literally 50 years too late.\u201d— Film Updates (@Film Updates) 1660583661
You can hear Brando's full statement that Littlefeather was never allowed to read from a 2018 interview on Native Trailblazers Radio below:
The full statement of apology will be read at an Academy Museum event honoring Littlefeather on September 17.
\u201cNative American activist and actress Sacheen Littlefeather (Apache/Yaqui/AZ) invites you to a special evening at the Academy Museum. \n\nMore details in the thread below \u2b07\ufe0f\n\n(Photo: \u00a9 Globe Photos/ZUMA Press)\u201d— Academy Museum of Motion Pictures (@Academy Museum of Motion Pictures) 1660583760
\u201cAt the 1973 Academy Awards, Sacheen famously declined Brando\u2019s award for THE GODFATHER, at his request. She gave a 60-second speech regarding the stereotypes and mistreatment of Native Americans in the entertainment industry, and the 1973 Wounded Knee protest in South Dakota.\u201d— Academy Museum of Motion Pictures (@Academy Museum of Motion Pictures) 1660583760
Littlefeather will also participate in a conversation with producer Runningwater during the event.
To date there has only been one Indigenous North American to an Oscar. In 1983, Cree musician, singer and songwriter Buffy Sainte Marie won the Oscar for Best Music, Original Song for An Officer and a Gentleman, for the song “Up Where We Belong."
There have only been two Native North American actors nominated for an Oscar. Tsleil-Waututh Nation, Coast Salish band actor Chief Dan George for 1970's Little Big Man and Oneida actor Graham Greene for 1991's Dance with Wolves.