Sacheen Littlefeather apologizes at Academy event 49 years after Marlon Brando's Oscars protest |  CBC News

Sacheen Littlefeather apologizes at Academy event 49 years after Marlon Brando’s Oscars protest | CBC News

Sacheen Littlefeather, the Native American activist who endured decades of harassment after rejecting Marlon Brando’s best actor award at the 1973 Academy Awards, received a formal apology from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) at an event on Saturday.

Almost 50 years ago, Littlefeather stood on stage after Brando was honored for his performance in Godfather. Speaking on his behalf, she rejected the statue and instead gave a 60-second speech to highlight Native American issues.

“We were in collaboration at the time because [Brando] he was very aware of the stereotype of Native American Indians in film, television and the sports industry. And so do I,” Littlefeather said at the event during an interview with Bird Runningwater, co-chair of the Indigenous Alliance Academy.

“I went there with a prayer,” she said. “I went there as a proud Indian; with dignity, with courage, with grace and humility.”

Littlefeather was in good spirits when she was on stage, cracking jokes and reminiscing about her friendship with Brand. The event included speeches and performances by indigenous artists selected by Littlefeather, many of whom were the children and grandchildren of her friends. The live stream began at 8:00 PM ET.

Former AMPAS president David Rubin, reading a letter of apology he wrote to her in June, told Littlefeather: “the abuse you suffered because of this statement was unwarranted and unwarranted”.

“You are forever respectfully embedded in our history,” he added.

Littlefeather, who is Apache and Yaqui, was just 26 when Brando — her friend and front-runner for this year’s award for her performance as mob boss Vito Corleone — asked her to attend the ceremony on his behalf, and she turned down the award.

When Brando won the award that night, Littlefeather stood on stage. Brando “very much regrets not being able to accept this very generous award and the reasons for being there are the treatment of American Indians today by the film industry,” she said.

WATCH | Sacheen Littlefeather turned down Marlon Brando’s Oscar:

She also mentioned the occupation of Wounded Knee in South Dakota in 1973, where the dispute between Lakota activists and US federal agents became a pivotal moment in the struggle for Native American rights.

Wearing a buckskin dress and moccasins, Littlefeather spoke to a divided audience, half of whom applauded and half jeered as she spoke. She later said she was the target of racial harassment backstage, with people shouting stereotypical war cries at her, and that actor John Wayne tried to lunge at her while she was speaking on stage.

“It was the most violent act ever to take place at the Academy Awards,” Littlefeather told Runningwater on Saturday.

She also said that the producer of the 1973 show threatened her, telling her that if she spoke for more than 60 seconds, he would have her arrested and jailed. Brando gave her an eight-page speech to read and she was forced to improvise.

“See, I wasn’t under any pressure that night,” she joked.

Littlefeather, an actor at the time, said she was blacklisted by Hollywood and harassed for years after the speech.

“I wasn’t representing myself. I was representing all the indigenous voices out there, all the indigenous people, because we’ve never been heard in this way before,” she told the audience.

“If I had to pay the entrance fee, then that was fine. Because the door had to be opened.”

In these screenshots taken from live video of the event, Sacheen Littlefeather talks about her experience at the 1973 Academy Awards and its aftermath with Bird Runningwater, co-chair of the Indigenous Alliance Academy. (Academic Film Museum/YouTube)

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