Marlon Brando asked Yaqui and Apache actress and activist to talk on his behalf about the injustices faced by Native Americans.
The Academy has apologized to Sacheen Littlefeather for the way she was treated at the Oscars award ceremony in 1973 after she defended the rights of Native Americans on national TV. Littlefeather gave the iconic speech representing Marlon Brando, who had won best actor for his role in "The Godfather." The actor, who was absent, asked the Yaqui and Apache actress and activist to talk on his behalf about the injustices faced by Native Americans. Littlefeather's brief speech was met with boos and cheers. She was mocked by Clint Eastwood and almost physically assaulted by John Wayne later. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences officially apologized to Littlefeather almost 50 years after the incident. "The abuse you endured because of this statement was unwarranted and unjustified," wrote former Academy president David Rubin in a letter to Littlefeather, reported CNN.
"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," continued the letter from Rubin. Littlefeather will appear at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures next month to discuss her speech at the Oscars and the future of Indigenous representation onscreen, said the Academy. Littlefeather responded to the letter and said the apology has been a long time coming and "a dream come true." She said, "Regarding the Academy's apology to me, we Indians are very patient people — it's only been 50 years!" she said. "We need to keep our sense of humor about this at all times. It's our method of survival."
The event will also see several Indigenous artists perform including Bird Runningwater, co-chair of the Academy's Indigenous Alliance, and Virginia Carmelo, a descendent of the Tongva people who will lead a land acknowledgment. "It is profoundly heartening to see how much has changed since I did not accept the Academy Award 50 years ago," said Littlefeather. When Brando was announced as the winner, she walked up the stage wearing a buckskin dress. She declined to touch the award that was offered to her, just as she had promised Brando and proceeded to give her speech. "(Brando) 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," she said. "I beg at this time that I have not intruded upon this evening, and that we will, in the future, our hearts and our understandings will meet with love and generosity."
It was Brando who asked Littlefeather to refuse the award on his behalf and make an important statement. Shortly after the 1973 Oscars, Brando gave a speech addressing poor representation in the industry and the harmful stereotypes. “I don't think people realize what the motion picture industry has done to the American Indian, and a matter of fact, all ethnic groups. All minorities. All non-whites,” said the "Godfather" star.
"I focused in on the mouths and the jaws that were dropping open in the audience, and there were quite a few," she told the official Academy blog. "But it was like looking into a sea of Clorox, you know, there were very few people of color in the audience." She also revealed John Wayne tried to charge at her to take her off the stage. Wayne once said, "Indians were selfishly trying to keep (the US) for themselves." He had to be restrained by guards to stop him from charging onto the stage. Littlefeather was ostracized and struggled to find work after her speech at the 1973 Oscars. She focused on activism and founding performing arts organizations for Indigenous actors. "I knew I had done the right thing," she said, looking back.