Academy Apologizes To Sacheen Littlefeather for 1973 Oscars Incident With Marlon Brando

by Chris Piner

Since the Academy Awards started honoring the achievements made in film, there have been countless memorable moments like watching Halle Berry become the first black woman to win best actress. Although the Academy Awards is a time to celebrate the hard work and dedication of actors, actresses, directors, and even cinematographers, back in 1973, the ceremony took a serious turn when Marlon Brando refused to accept his award for his portrayal of Vito Corleone in The Godfather. Considered one of the greatest films in cinema, the actor not only declined the award but allowed Sacheen Littlefeather, a native American, to address how Hollywood depicted her people. 

Upset at her speech, Sacheen Littlefeather, who was only 26 years old at the time, received a mountain of backlash for her statement. While on stage, audience members booed her and some even made tomahawk gestures at her. Not to mention, off the stage, Littlefeather received numerous threats of violence. 

Now, fifty years after her speech, the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures decided to right that wrong by honoring Sacheen Littlefeather with more than an apology, but a special event airing on September 17. Currently 75 years old, Littlefeather was the first Native American woman to stand on the stage at the Academy Awards back in 1973. She harped on the protests happening around Wounded Knee. Her speech alone led to producers and high-level executives boycotting her.  

An Evening with Sacheen Littlefeather

Not able to correct the past, the director and president of the Academy Museum, Jacqueline Stewart, hopes to apologize. “We are delighted and humbled that Sacheen has so generously chosen to engage with the museum and Academy to reflect upon her trying experience at the 1973 Academy Awards. Our thanks go out to Bird Runningwater and Heather Rae for helping us foster our cherished relationship with Sacheen.”

Back in June, the former president of the Academy, David Rubin, sent a letter of apology to Sacheen Littlefeather titled Statement of Reconciliation. A small portion reads, “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.”

The academy also addressed the abuse she received as a result of her speech. “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 has been unacknowledged. For this, we offer both our deepest apologies and our sincere admiration.”