The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS), the body that oversees the Oscars, has issued a formal apology to Sacheen Littlefeather, the Native American activist who performed at the Academy Awards ceremony in 1973 as part of Marlon Brando’s refusal to to receive his prize. .
Brando won the Best Actor Oscar for his role as Vito Corleone in The Godfather, but did not attend as a protest in support of Native American rights, inspired in part by the continued two-month occupation of the site of the Wounded Knee. massacre in 1890 by the American Indian Movement (AIM). Instead, Littlefeather refused to accept the statuette from presenters Roger Moore and Liv Ullmann, giving a short speech, saying that Brando’s attitude was due to “the treatment of American Indians today by the film industry … and on television, in reruns, as well as recent events at Wounded Knee.”
The speech was greeted with cheers from the audience, and Littlefeather, then 26, later reported that actor John Wayne had to be stopped backstage by guards from attacking her, while other individuals made abusive gestures backstage.
Ampas has issued a declaration of reconciliation, signed by former President David Rubin, describing her appearance as “a powerful statement that continues to remind us of the need for respect and the importance of human dignity”.
“The abuse you have suffered because of this statement was unjustified and unjustified. The emotional burden you have endured and the cost to your own career in our industry is irreparable. For too long the courage you showed has not been acknowledged. For this, we offer our deepest apologies as well as our sincere admiration.” The organization has also planned an evening of “conversation, reflection, healing and celebration,” including a performance by Littlefeather with Bird Runningwater, co-chair of the Academy’s Indigenous Alliance.
Littlefeather, now 75, responded by saying: “As for the Academy’s apology to me, we Indians are very patient people – it’s only been 50 years! We must maintain our sense of humor about this at all times. It is our way of survival.”
“I never thought I’d live to see the day,” she added. This is a dream come true. It’s heartwarming to see how much has changed since I didn’t receive the Academy Award fifty years ago.”
The occupation of Wounded Knee began in February 1973 and was a highly publicized protest by a 200-strong group of Oglala Lakota and members of AIM on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, the same spot where some 290 Lakota were killed by the U.S. army in 1890. The Oscars took place in March and the occupation ended in May after agreement with federal authorities to disarm.
In 2021, Littlefeather told the Guardian that she arrived at the ceremony just minutes before Brando’s award was announced and that she had been given an eight-page speech from Brando to find out if he won. However, the show’s director, Howard Koch, told her she could only have 60 seconds, so she improvised a speech instead. She also said she promised Brando she wouldn’t touch the statue. “I went there as a warrior woman. I went there with the grace and the beauty and the courage and the humility of my people. I spoke from my heart.”