Sacheen Littlefeather was at the center of one of the Oscars’ most controversial moments that infuriated actor John Wayne. Littlefeather recently made headlines after the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences apologized for her mistreatment at the 1973 Oscars. At 26 years old, Littlefeather took to the stage on Marlon Brando’s behalf after he was named best actor for The Godfather. However, as a form of protest, she declined the award on Brando’s behalf. Brando cited Hollywood’s long-standing problem with its portrayal of Native American Indian people in film and television as his reason for rejecting the Oscar.
The Academy recently formally apologized for Littlefeather’s treatment following the incident. A scheduled ceremony honoring Sacheen Littlefeather is scheduled for September. Littlefeather recently sat down with the Academy to discuss the incident. She recalls the events surrounding that night at the Oscars in 1973.
That night, Littlefeather took the stage to deliver Brando’s message. “I’m Sacheen Littlefeather. I’m Marlon Brando’s official representative here this evening,” she said at the time. “Unfortunately, he cannot receive this Academy Award because of the image of Native American Indian people in film and television today.”
Those in attendance did not take kindly to Littlefeather’s words. “That’s when people started booing, and the other half started cheering,” Littlefeather told the Academy. “And that’s when all the people started getting into commotion in the audience. And I focused in on the mouths and the jaws that were dropping open in the audience, and there were quite a few. But it was like looking into a sea of Clorox, you know, there were very few people of color in the audience. And I just took a deep breath, put my head down for a second, and then, when they quieted down, I continued.”
The Duke didn’t take kindly to Littlefeather’s actions
When she left the stage, she says that John Wayne approached her in a rage, furious with her remarks. “[John Wayne] did not like what I was saying up at the podium,” Littlefeather recalled. “So, he came forth in a rage to physically assault and take me off the stage. And he had to be restrained by six security men in order for that not to happen.”
“It was interesting because some people were giving me the tomahawk chop. I thought, ‘This is very racist. Very racist indeed.’ And I just gracefully walked and ignored them,” Littlefeather elaborated. “They put two armed guards around me and said they were going to take me to these different press rooms. One was for television press, radio press, and international press. And I would have about 10 minutes in each press room, and that was it. And then, I was escorted out the door.”
Littlefeather made history in 1973. She was the first Native American woman to stand on stage at an Academy Awards ceremony. On September 17, she will attend the Academy for a one-of-a-kind event and discussion titled “An Evening With Sacheen Littlefeather.”
Jacqueline Stewart, the director, and president of the Academy Museum was pleased to shed light on the Oscars incident. “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,” she said.