Sacheen Littlefeather: Who is Sacheen Littlefeather, Native American actress who's received apology from Academy after 1973 Oscars speech
In 1973, Sacheen Littlefeather was booed off stage when she gave a speech at the Academy Awards about the depiction of Native Americans in Hollywood films while also refusing the best actor award given to Marlon Brando. Here’s what happened.
Who is Sacheen Littlefeather?
Also known as ‘Marie Louise Cruz’, Sacheen Littlefeather is an American actress and Native American civil rights activist.
She was born to a European American mother and a Native American father in 1946.
Cinema career highlights include The Trial of Billy Jack (1974), Johnny Firecloud (1975) and Winterhawk (1975).
However, she is perhaps best known for representing Marlon Brando at the 45th Academy Awards in 1973 where she spoke out against the stereotypical portrayal of Native Americans in the film industry.
After this incident, she continued to work as an activist for issues affecting Native Americans.
What happened at the 1973 Academy Awards?
Sacheen Littlefeather, wearing moccasins and a buckskin dress, took to the stage of the Academy Awards in 1973, becoming the first Native American woman to do so.
On behalf of Marlon Brando - who had won the best actor award for The Godfather - Littlefeather was asked not touch the Oscar statuette (in support for her cause).
Meanwhile, show producer Howard Koch, had instructed her to limit her speech to 60 seconds, with the threat of arrest if she went over time, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
During her speech, Littlefeather said: “[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 - excuse me - and on television in movie reruns, and also with recent happenings at Wounded Knee.”
The 1973 Oscars were held during the Wounded Knee Occupation, a siege at site of a brutal 19th century conflict that saw the slaughter of hundreds of Native Americans by U.S. federal troops.
Afterwards, 26-year-old Sacheen Littefeather was booed off stage (with some cheering) and in the years since has been met with mockery, discrimination and personal attacks, she reports.
How has the Academy responded to the 1973 event?
Nearly 50 years after Littlefeather stood up at the Academy Awards and was booed by some audience members for her speech on Native American depiction in films, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences has apologised to her for what she experienced.
On Monday, the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures announced that it will host 75-year-old Littlefeather for an evening of “conversation, healing and celebration” on September 17.
As part of the announcement, the Academy Museum shared a letter sent from David Rubin, academy president, to Littlefeather about her iconic speech which Rubin described as “a powerful statement that continues to remind us of the necessity of respect and the importance of human dignity.”
Rubin said: “For too long the courage you showed has been unacknowledged. For this, we offer both our deepest apologies and our sincere admiration.”
What was Sacheen Littlefeather’s response to the apology?
Littlefeather said she “was stunned” when the Academy reached out to her about making amends, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
“I never thought I’d live to see the day I would be hearing this, experiencing this,” Littlefeather said.
She continued: “it is profoundly heartening to see how much has changed since I did not accept the Academy Award 50 years ago.
“Regarding the Academy’s apology to me, we Indians are a very patient people - it’s only been 50 years!
“We need to keep our sense of humour about this at all times. It’s our method of survival.”
Littlefeather will attend a conversation with producer Bird Runningwater, co-chair of the Academy’s Indigenous Alliance, at the Academy Museum event in Los Angeles on September 17, 2022.