Academy Awards Apologizes for Abuse Against Native American 50 Years Ago

    It’s been almost 50 years since Sacheen Littlefeather faced criticism and abuse from Hollywood’s elite at the Academy Awards. But now the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is issuing a formal apology for its actions.

    In 1973, Littlefeather walked to the podium to refuse the Best Actor Oscar for Marlon Brando. He won for his role in “The Godfather. They were protesting the film industry’s treatment of Native Americans.

    She explained that Brando “very regretfully cannot accept this very generous award, 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.”

    Littlefeather is a civil rights activist and a Native American.

    The action received boos from the audience and was the butt of jokes from presenters. She said that John Wayne attempted to assault her backstage. 

    “A lot of people were making money off of that racism of the Hollywood Indian,” Littlefeather later said. “Of course, they’re going to boo. They don’t want their evening interrupted.”

    Brando said this about his actions, “I felt that there was an opportunity. Since the American Indian hasn’t been able to have his voice heard anywhere in the history of the United States, I felt that it was a marvelous opportunity for an Indian to be able to voice his opinion to 85 million people, I guess that was the number. I felt that he had a right to, in view of what Hollywood has done to him.”

    The Academy is not only apologizing for what she faced but is offering “an evening of conversation, reflection, healing, and celebration with Littlefeather” on September 17, 2022, at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures.

    “The abuse you endured because of this statement was unwarranted and unjustified,” former Academy president David Rubin wrote in a letter to Littlefeather. “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 said that this is “a dream come true” and joked that “we Indians are very patient people—it’s only been 50 years! We need to keep our sense of humor about this at all times. It’s our method of survival.”


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