Actress-activist Sacheen Littlefeather’s place in Oscar history came full circle as she participated in a “healing event” at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, nearly 50 years after she was booed as she read a statement from Marlon Brando in 1973 while declining his best actor statue for “The Godfather.”
“The abuse you endured because of this statement was unwarranted and unjustified,” former Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences president David Rubin told Littlefeather on Saturday, reading from a letter he sent to her on June 18. “You are forever, respectfully, ingrained in our history.”
Brando sent the then 26-year-old aspiring actress to protest the treatment of American Indians by the film industry but she was interrupted by boos, heckling and insults from the audience.
“It was with prayer that I went up there,” Littlefeather, now 75, recalled during Saturday’s event. “I went up there like a proud Indian woman; with dignity, with courage, with grace and with humility.
“We were in a collaboration at that time, because [Brando] was very aware of the stereotype of Native American Indians in film, television and the sports industry. And so was I.”
Saturday’s sold-out event included an discussion between Littlefeather and producer N. Bird Runningwater, the co-chair of the Academy’s Indigenous Alliance and former head of the Sundance Institute’s Native Lab.
Littlefeather discussed her friendship with the actor, who died in 2004, and enjoyed performances by Indigenous artists including the All Nation Singers and Dancers, Steve Bohay and the Sooner Nation Singers and Dancers and the White Mountain Apache Crown Dancers.
“As you stood on the Oscars stage in 1973 to not accept the Oscar on behalf of Marlon Brando, in recognition of the misrepresentation and mistreatment of Native American people by the film industry, you made a powerful statement that continues to remind us of the necessity of respect and the importance of human dignity,” Rubin said in his June letter.
“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.
“We cannot realize the Academy’s mission to ‘inspire imagination and connect the world through cinema’ without a commitment to facilitating the broadest representation and inclusion reflective of our diverse global population.”
The full program can be viewed on the Academy’s YouTube channel: www.youtube.com/watch?v=wNHtImiC90o.