oscars 1973

The Academy Apologizes to Sacheen Littlefeather for Discrimination and Harassment at the 1973 Oscars

Sacheen Littlefeather at the 1973 Oscars. Photo: Bettmann Archive/Getty Images

Nearly 50 years after the events of the 1973 Oscars, the Academy has acknowledged and apologized for the harassment and discrimination of Sacheen Littlefeather (Apache and Yaqui, from Arizona). The then-26-year-old actress and activist took the stage to decline Marlon Brando’s Best Actor award for his role in The Godfather. Brando asked Littlefeather to decline the award on his behalf in order to read a 60-second improvised nonacceptance speech to protest the treatment of Native Americans in the film industry and the standoff between law enforcement and the activist organization American Indian Movement at Wounded Knee, South Dakota. (The Wounded Knee standoff was under a Department of Justice–imposed media blackout at the time.) Once she began her speech, however, the audience started to boo her offstage, and she said John Wayne had to be physically restrained from attacking her backstage. “[Brando] very regretfully cannot accept this very generous award,” Littlefeather said at that podium in 1973. “And the reasons for this being are the treatment of American Indians today by the film industry [the audience begins to boo] — excuse me — and on television in movie reruns and also with recent happenings at Wounded Knee.”

Littlefeather faced backlash immediately after the incident that has followed her throughout the past 50 years. “The abuse you endured because of this statement was unwarranted and unjustified,” the apology from former Academy president David Rubin, dated June 18, reads. “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.” The statement will be read in full at an Academy Museum event honoring Littlefeather on September 17. She will be in conversation with Bird Runningwater (Cheyenne and Mescalero Apache, from New Mexico), co-chair of the Academy’s Indigenous Alliance, who first reached out to Littlefeather in the Academy’s effort to reexamine the history of racism and sexism in its organization. “I was stunned. I never thought I’d live to see the day I would be hearing this, experiencing this,” Littlefeather told The Hollywood Reporter. “When I was at the podium in 1973, I stood there alone.”

The Academy Finally Apologizes to Sacheen Littlefeather