Nearly 50 years after Sacheen Littlefeather took to the stage at the Academy Awards to decline Marlon Brando’s Oscar on his behalf and to protest the entertainment industry’s treatment of Native Americans, the Academy Of Motion Pictures Arts And Sciences has announced that it will not only be formally apologizing to her for the backlash she faced both that night and in the years since, but it will also be holding an event at the Academy Museum in her honor. This comes from The Hollywood Reporter, which says the Academy’s full apology will be read at the event on September 17 and that it will be followed by a conversation between Littlefeather and Bird Runningwater, the co-chair the the Academy’s Indigenous Alliance.
In a statement, Littlefeather says she was “stunned” when the Academy first reached out to her, saying, “I never thought I’d live to see the day I would be hearing this, experiencing this.” In 1973, Marlon Brando sent Littlefeather in his place to personally decline his Best Actor Oscar for The Godfather, with THR noting that the show’s producer had told her she only had 60 seconds to speak and that security was ready to “arrest her” if she went over her time at all.
Littlefeather had multiple pages of prepared remarks but had to improvise because of the time limit, saying—among increasingly loud boos from the crowd—that Brando would not be accepting his award because of “the treatment of American Indians today by the film industry… and on television and movie reruns, and also with recent happenings at Wounded Knee.” (At the time, Native American activists had occupied the town of Wounded Knee as a protest against the government’s mistreatment of Native Americans.)
In addition to the crowd’s reaction to Littlefeather’s appearance, John Wayne supposedly had to be held back by people offstage so he wouldn’t physically attack her and other Hollywood people and the media all jumped to find ways to criticize Littlefeather—who was an aspiring actor at the time—and to willfully ignore her point. The Academy’s decision to apologize for not supporting Littlefeather reportedly comes as part of a new initiative to actively “revisit the organization’s past and determine its future through a more expansive, inclusive lens.”
Again, the full apology will be presented on September 17 at the Academy’s “An Evening With Sacheen Littlefeather” event. The talk will be open to the public, you just have to sign up at the Academy’s website.