Sacheen Littlefeather formally accepted the Academy’s apology for the hostile reception she received during the 45th Oscars in 1973 when she appeared on behalf of winner Marlon Brando.
On Saturday, the actress and activist was honored during an event called “An Evening with Sacheen Littlefeather” held at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in Los Angeles. There, Littlefeather, 75, also participated in a conversation with producer Bird Runningwater, co-chair of the Academy’s Indigenous Alliance.
In response to the apology letter issued by then-Academy president David Rubin in June, she said, “I am here accepting this apology. Not only for me alone, but as acknowledgment, knowing that it was not only for me but for all of our nations that also need to hear and deserve this apology tonight.”
She continued, “Now, I would like all the Indian people in this audience to stand. Look at our people, look at each other and be proud that we stand as survivors, all of us.”
“Please, when I’m gone, always be reminded that whenever you stand for your truth, you will be keeping my voice and the voices of our nations and our people alive,” she concluded. “I remain Sacheen Littlefeather. Thank you.”
In 1973, Littlefeather stood on the Oscars stage on behalf of Marlon Brando to turn down his best actor award for his performance in The Godfather, using the speech to call out the film industry’s mistreatment of Native Americans.
The protest garnered mixed reactions from the audience, the boos audible to the TV audience. She later said that John Wayne was restrained backstage for trying to storm the stage at the time of her speech.
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“I remember the faces in the crowd,” Littlefeather recalled three decades after the event took place. “John Wayne, backstage, had to be restrained by six men from coming to get me and pull me off the stage.”
In an interview with Variety published Tuesday, Littlefeather recalled, “I heard a disturbance from behind me as I was speaking up at the podium. I found out that [Wayne] had been restrained by six security men from assaulting me while I was on that stage.”
Littlefeather said she was informed about what was going on backstage by a security guard, noting, “But it was never publicized” and Wayne was “never admonished by the Academy.”
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Following her Oscars appearance, she told Variety that she was “boycotted by the FBI,” adding: “They went around Hollywood and told people not to hire me. If they did, they would shut their film production down.”
In addition, other people were let on talk shows like Johnny Carson, Merv Griffin, and other popular talk shows. They could go on there and talk about me, but I was never allowed to go on them and represent myself,” she said.
In one of his first interviews after the Oscars stunt, Brando told Dick Cavett he was sad, but not shocked by the response from those in the audience. “You’re ruining our fantasy with an intrusion of a little reality,” he said of how he interrupted the room’s outcry.
Littlefeather was in disbelief upon receiving an apology from the Academy in June, telling The Hollywood Reporter that she was “stunned.”
“I never thought I’d live to see the day I would be hearing this, experiencing this. When I was at the podium in 1973, I stood there alone,” she added.
In the letter, Rubin wrote in part: “The abuse you endured because of this statement was unwarranted and unjustified. 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 For this, we offer both our deepest apologies and our sincere admiration.”