Sacheen Littlefeather: Oscars apologises to Native American woman booed off stage nearly 50 years ago

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Watch: Film academy apologises to Sacheen Littlefeather over treatment after 1973 Oscars

The Oscars has apologised to a Native American woman who was booed off stage nearly 50 years ago when she appeared to refuse an award that Marlon Brando won for The Godfather.

The Academy Museum of Motion Pictures said that it will host Sacheen Littlefeather, 75, for an evening of “conversation, healing and celebration” on September 17.

The event will feature a formal apology to the actress who suffered decades of abuse within the industry following the actress’s appearance at the 1973 Oscars.

Littlefeather famously took to the stage to decline Brando’s best actor award at his request.

Instead, she gave a 60-second speech regarding the stereotypes and mistreatment of Native Americans in the entertainment industry, and the 1973 Wounded Knee protest in South Dakota.

On Monday night, the Academy acknowledged that the actress, now 75, had been “professionally boycotted, personally harassed and attacked, and discriminated against for the last fifty years” following her actions.

Sacheen Littlefeather at an event in Los Angeles in 2010 (Getty Images)
Sacheen Littlefeather at an event in Los Angeles in 2010 (Getty Images)

“On September 17, join Sacheen Littlefeather at the Academy Museum for a night of conversation, healing, and performances as we reflect on the impact of her speech at the 45th Academy Awards (currently on view in our Academy Awards History gallery),” the organisation tweeted.

“Sacheen invites you to a special celebration of live Native American Indian performances featuring a long-awaited statement of apology from the Academy”.

In an Oscars first, Littlefeather took to the stage wearing buckskin dress and moccasins and delivered a short speech explaining that he could not accept the award due to “the treatment of American Indians today by the film industry”.

Some in the audience booed her. John Wayne, who was backstage at the time, was reportedly furious. The 1973 Oscars were held during the American Indian Movement’s two-month occupation of Wounded Knee in South Dakota. In the years since, Littlefeather has said she has been mocked, discriminated against and personally attacked for her brief Academy Awards appearance.

Making the announcement, the Academy Museum shared a letter sent on June 18 to Littlefeather by David Rubin, academy president, about the iconic Oscar moment.

Rubin called Littlefeather’s speech “a powerful statement that continues to remind us of the necessity of respect and the importance of human dignity.”

“The abuse you endured because of this statement was unwarranted and unjustified,” wrote Mr Rubin. “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.”

In a statement Littlefeather said it is “profoundly heartening to see how much has changed since I did not accept the Academy Award 50 years ago.”

“Regarding the Academy’s apology to me, we Indians are very patient people - it’s only been 50 years!” said Littlefeather. “We need to keep our sense of humor about this at all times. It’s our method of survival.”

In a podcast earlier this year with Jacqueline Stewart, a film scholar and director of the Academy Museum, Littlefeather reflected on what compelled her to speak out in 1973.

“I felt that there should be Native people, Black people, Asian people, Chicano people - I felt there should be an inclusion of everyone,” said Littlefeather. “A rainbow of people that should be involved in creating their own image.”