One Year Ago Today (September 17, 2022)…Nearly 50 years after she took the stage at the Academy Awards on behalf of Marlon Brando and declined his Oscar for “The Godfather” — resulting in boos, heckling, and insults — Sacheen Littlefeather participated in a “healing” event evening at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures. This event is part of the Academy’s ongoing efforts to make amends for the mistreatment she endured.
Littlefeather made history at the Oscars in 1973 when she walked on stage, at Brando’s request, to reject his Best Actor Oscar as a protest against the film industry’s treatment of American Indians. Despite being a young aspiring actress at the time, her appearance was met with ridicule and personal attacks on her heritage, leading to the end of her acting career.
However, on Saturday, Littlefeather received an invitation to the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures for a “special program of conversation, reflection, healing, and celebration.”
This event follows a June 18 letter sent to Littlefeather by David Rubin, the outgoing president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, offering a long-overdue apology for the mistreatment she experienced.
“As you stood on the Oscars stage in 1973 to decline Marlon Brando’s Oscar, highlighting the misrepresentation and mistreatment of Native American people by the film industry, you made a powerful statement that continues to remind us of the importance of respect and human dignity,” Rubin wrote in the letter.
“The abuse you endured because of this statement was unwarranted and unjustified. The emotional burden you have carried and the impact on your own career in our industry are irreparable. For too long, your courage has gone unrecognized. For this, we offer our deepest apologies and sincere admiration.
“We cannot fulfill the Academy’s mission to ‘inspire imagination and connect the world through cinema’ without a commitment to promoting the broadest representation and inclusion that reflects our diverse global population,” he added.
He also emphasized the Academy’s commitment to ensuring that indigenous voices are respected contributors to the global film community.
“We hope you receive this letter as an olive branch and as recognition of your essential role in our journey as an organization,” he concluded. “You will always hold a respectful place in our history.”
In a statement released by the Academy, Littlefeather responded, “As Indians, we are very patient people — it’s only been 50 years! We need to maintain our sense of humor in every situation. It’s how we survive.”
She expressed her disbelief that this event was finally taking place and praised the participation of Native performers and Bird Runningwater, a television and film producer who has supported Indigenous filmmakers through the Sundance Institute’s Labs and Sundance Film Festival for two decades.
“This is a dream come true. It’s incredibly heartening to witness how much has changed since I refused the Academy Award 50 years ago. I am proud of every person who will grace the stage,” Littlefeather said.
Rubin and incoming Academy President Janet Yang are both scheduled to participate in the event at the Academy Museum. The evening will feature Native American performances, a conversation between Littlefeather and producer Bird Runningwater, and a reading of the Academy’s apology letter.
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