Sacheen Littlefeather, actor who turned down Brando Oscar, dies

Sacheen Littlefeather, the actor and activist who rejected Marlon Brando’s 1973 Academy Award for The Godfather on his behalf in an indelible protest how Indians were portrayed on screen has died. She was 75.

Littlefeather’s niece, Calina Lawrence, confirmed that she passed away peacefully on Sunday surrounded by loved ones at her home in Marin County, California. The cause was breast cancer, the family said.

Littlefeathers Appearance at the 1973 Oscars would be one of the awards shows most famous moments. Dressed in a suede dress and moccasins, Littlefeather took the stage as presenter Roger Moore read Brando’s name as the winner for Best Actor.

Speaking to the audience, Littlefeather cited the stereotypes of Native Americans in the film and at the time week-long protest at Wounded Knee in South Dakota as the reason for Brando’s absence. She said Brando wrote “a very long speech,” but that she was limited in time to short remarks.

“I ask at this time that I did not disturb this evening and that in the future we will meet our hearts and understandings with love and generosity,” said Littlefeather, becoming the first Native American woman to perform at the Oscars .

Though brief, direct, and polite, Littlefeather’s performance was controversial, receiving a mixture of applause and boos from the audience. In the years since, Littlefeather has endured considerable contempt and insults because of her speech, she said.

“I spoke from my heart,” she told The Associated Press days after the Oscars. “These words were written in blood, perhaps my own blood. I felt like Christ carrying the weight of the cross on his shoulders.”

It was only recently that the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences officially addressed the treatment Littlefeather received after her performance. In August, the film academy apologized to Littlefeather. Two weeks ago, it hosted an evening of “Talk, Healing, and Celebration” in her honor.

“The abuse you suffered as a result of that statement was unjustified and unjustified,” Academy President David Rubin wrote in a letter to Littlefeather. “The emotional toll you have gone through and the cost of your own career in our industry is beyond repair. For too long the courage you have shown has not been recognised, for which we offer you both our deepest apologies and our sincere admiration.”

Littlefeather responded in a statement: “We Indians are very patient people – it was only 50 years ago!”

“We must maintain our sense of humor at all times,” she added. “It’s our method of survival.”


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Sarah Y. Kim

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