When Marlon Brando won the Oscar for Best Actor for The Godfather, he chose not to speak or attend the ceremony. Instead, he took a stand against Native American treatment and lack of representation by sending 26-year-old Sacheen Littlefeather on his behalf.
Littlefeather delivered a quick but impactful speech. She was mocked by nearly everyone in the audience and received worldwide slander. It was one of the lowest moments in Hollywood history. (Hollywood continues to be problematic considering the resistance to adding more representation to their films.)
Nonetheless, Littlefeather is now making her return to the Academy 50 years later. This time around, she’ll be honored by everyone from the Academy and fans of cinema around the world at the Academy Museum.
She recently spoke to the Hollywood Reporter about the Academy’s decision to apologize.
“I 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,” said Littlefeather.
One thing is for sure: Her speech at the Oscars left a mark on the annual show.
Marlon Brando’s Risky Move
Compared to the other stars in Hollywood, Marlon Brando was an outcast. No one in Hollywood – at the time – would’ve had the guts to give up an opportunity of delivering a winning speech in exchange for a cause like Native American representation. It was a risky move for Brando’s image.
In the 1950s, he was the biggest actor in the world. In fact, it’s easier to name the years he wasn’t nominated for an Oscar in that decade. Brando‘s career lost momentum for a bit until he was cast in The Godfather.
However, the timing fit Brando’s personality and reputation. It was extremely commendable to sacrifice one of the nation’s top platforms for a worthy cause.
The Effect of Littlefeather’s Speech
In 1976, Clint Eastwood directed and starred in “The Outlaw Josey Wales,” which is highly regarded as the first film with a positive representation of Native Americans. Even though Littlefeather was mocked and embarrassed at the Oscars, months later, Eastwood began working on a project that honored Native American culture. Released three years later, it was his fifth directorial outing. It’s not a coincidence this all happened shortly after Littlefeather’s event.
There were terms for Littlefeather as she went up to give her speech. Brando requested that she would keep her hands off the Academy Award. The show’s producer, Howard Koch, demanded Littlefeather’s speech be no longer than 60 seconds or she would be arrested.
Imagine being given a platform by Marlon Brando only to be mocked by all of Hollywood. It must’ve been lonely and frightening for her.
The Academy will be delivering a detailed apology on September 17th, 2022 at the Academy Museum. Littlefeather will be present and is scheduled to have a conversation at the event. It’s a shame it took 50 years for this apology.
Find the transcription of Littlefeather’s speech from the 1973’s Oscars below.
“Hello. My name is Sacheen Littlefeather. I’m Apache and I am president of the National Native American Affirmative Image Committee. I’m representing Marlon Brando this evening and he has asked me to tell you in a very long speech, which I cannot share with you presently because of time but I will be glad to share with the press afterwards, that he very regretfully cannot accept this very generous award. And the reasons for this being are the treatment of American Indians today by the film industry – excuse me – and on television in movie reruns, and also with recent happenings at Wounded Knee. I beg at this time that I have not intruded upon this evening and that we will in the future, our hearts and our understandings will meet with love and generosity. Thank you on behalf of Marlon Brando.”
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