She died on October 2, 2022 and was widely known for her powerful speech at the 1973 Academy Awards rejecting an Oscar on behalf of Marlon Brando.
Sacheen Littlefeather (Apache/Yaqui/Ariz.), a Native American actress who became extremely popular in 1973 for declining Marlon Brando’s Oscar for The Godfather, passed away on October 2, 2022. She was 75 years old. She died surrounded by family members in her home in the Northern California city of Novato. On that fated night in 1973, Littlefeather was introduced to accept the award on behalf of Brando, who had given her explicit instructions to not touch the trophy and even an eight-paged typed letter that she couldn’t share due to lack of time. She did, however, mention why he wouldn’t be accepting the 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 recent happenings at Wounded Knee.”
Sacheen Littlefeather, Native American civil rights activist who famously declined Marlon Brando’s 1973 Best Actor Academy Award, dies at 75. pic.twitter.com/OlpsoItlCw— The Academy (@TheAcademy) October 3, 2022
While she was booed off the stage at the time and had John Wayne restrained from assaulting her on stage, she was given an official apology by the Academy just a few months before her death. They said that her appearance was “a powerful statement that continues to remind us of the necessity of respect and the importance of human dignity.” They also wrote, “The abuse you endured because of this statement was unwarranted and unjustified. 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.”
Her response to the apology read, “Regarding the Academy’s apology to me, we Indians are very patient people – it’s only been 50 years! We need to keep our sense of humor about this at all times. It’s our method of survival.” At that time, Sacheen was blacklisted by the Hollywood community, she mentioned in her documentary titled, Sacheen: Breaking The Silence. “It was the first time anyone had made a political statement at the Oscars,” Littlefeather says in the documentary. “It was the first Oscars ceremony to be broadcast by satellite all over the world, which is why Marlon chose it. I didn’t have an evening dress so Marlon told me to wear my buckskin.”
Sacheen Littlefeather has passed away. While people remember her for her acceptance speech on behalf of Marlon Brando, Know that she also ended the media blackout of the Wounded Knee occupation, won an Emmy & co-founded the American Indian AIDS Institute of San Francisco. RIP 👊🏼 pic.twitter.com/1v7Q2XElQe— Ruth H. Robertson (Red Road Woman) (@Ruth_HHopkins) October 3, 2022
She also noted, “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.” She didn’t stay in the industry for long however and quit for good, earning a degree in holistic health from Antioch University with a minor in Native American medicine. She also served as a founding board member of the American Indian AIDS Institute of San Francisco.