The Oscars apologise to Sacheen Littlefeather for the misuse of her words.

sacheen littlefeather

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (Ampas) has publicly apologised to Sacheen Littlefeather, a Native American activist who attended the 1973 Oscars as part of Marlon Brando’s protest against receiving his award.

Brando was awarded the Academy Award for Best Actor for his role as Vito Corleone in The Godfather, but he declined to accept the award in protest of the government’s treatment of Native Americans. The American Indian Movement’s ongoing two-month occupation of the site of the 1890 Wounded Knee Massacre played a role in this decision (AIM). Rather than accept the award from presenters Roger Moore and Liv Ullmann, Littlefeather gave a brief speech in which she claimed that Brando’s stance was motivated by “the treatment of American Indians today by the film industry… and on television, movie reruns, and also with recent happenings at Wounded Knee.”

Littlefeather, who was 26 at the time, stated that security guards had to stop actor John Wayne from hitting her backstage while he and others made insulting gestures during the speech.

During her visit, she made a “strong declaration that continues to remind us of the necessary of respect and the significance of human dignity,” according to a statement of reconciliation issued by Ampas and signed by the organization’s president, David Rubin.

“What happened to you after making this statement was completely unjustified and unfair. You’ve lost your chance at a successful career in our field forever, and that’s not the only thing that’s hurting you. You deserve to be recognised for your bravery, which has been overlooked for too long. To balance out our regret, please accept our sincere admiration for what you’ve done. Littlefeather, along with Bird Runningwater, co-chair of the Academy’s Indigenous Alliance, will be attending a night of “conversation, reflection, healing, and celebration.”

Littlefeather, who is now 75, said, “It’s only been 50 years.” “We Indians are known for our patience, so I accept the Academy’s apologies with grace. We need to keep our humour about this situation at all times. To put it simply, that’s how we stay alive.

Oglala Lakota and AIM members numbered around 200 when they began the Wounded Knee occupation in February 1973 on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, not far from where more than 290 Lakota were killed by the US troops in 1890. An agreement to disarm with federal police was struck in time for the Oscars in March, bringing an end to the occupation in May.

In 2021, Littlefeather told the Guardian that Brando had written her an eight-page speech to recite if he won, and that she had gotten to the ceremony right before his award was presented. After being notified by the show’s director, Howard Koch, that she would have only 60 seconds to speak, she improvised a speech on the spot. She continued by saying that she had secured a promise from Brando to keep his hands off the statue. “As a strong and independent woman, I climbed to the top. I went up there with the grace, beauty, courage, and humility of my people. My words were sincere.

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