The Oscars apologized to Native American actress and activist Sacheen Littlefeather 50 years after she suffered harassment and discrimination for protesting mistreatment.
In 1973, the actress appeared on television to reject an Oscar that was won by actor Marlon Brando for his role in the film The Godfather. Brando had rejected the ‘Best Actor’ award in protest of the misrepresentation of Native Americans in the US film industry, and sent Littlefeather in his place.
The Oscars apologized to Littlefeather and said that she endured “unwarranted and unjustified” abuse following her speech, which was the first political statement the televised ceremony witnessed which kickstarted a trend that continues until today.
“The abuse you endured because of this statement was unwarranted and unjustified,” the academy’s President David Rubin said in a “statement of reconciliation” which he sent to Littlefeather in June and posted on social media on Monday.
“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 academy also acknowledged the impact the event had on Littlefeather’s personal life and career.
“As a result, Sacheen was professionally boycotted, personally harassed and attacked and discriminated against for the last fifty years,” Rubin stated.
In the 1973 speech, Littlefeather said that Brando “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… and on television, in movie reruns, and also with happening at Wounded Knee.”
A month before the 1973 Oscars ceremony, the American Indian Movement, an activist organization, occupied the South Dakota Town of Wounded Knee to protest the mistreatment of Native Americans in a violent standoff. During the time of her speech, the town was placed under a media blackout by the US Department of Justice.
People booed her during the speech and the actress, then 26, said she was also physically threatened by actor John Wayne.
In an interview with the Hollywood Reporter, Littlefeather, now 75, said she was “stunned” by the apology.
“I was stunned. I never thought I’d live to see the day I would be hearing this, experiencing this,” she said. “When I was at the podium in 1973, I stood there alone.”
The Academy Museum of Motion Pictures will host an event next month in which Littlefeather will give a talk about her appearance at the Oscars in 1973 and the future of the representation of indigenous people on screen.
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