Sacheen Littlefeather’s 60-second speech at the 1973 Oscars, where she appeared on behalf of best-actor-winner Marlon Brando, was instantly among the awards show’s most blatantly political moments and has since become one of the top-viewed Oscar speeches of all-time.
Littlefeather was 26 when she took the Oscars stage in Brando’s place to decline his statuette for The Godfather. In a speech on behalf of Brando, the Apache activist condemned “the treatment of American Indians today by the film industry” and alerted viewers to the then occupation of Wounded Knee. Littlefeather’s presence was met with a mix of applause and booing, as well as “tomahawk chops” backstage and threats of arrest, according to The Hollywood Reporter. John Wayne even had to be physically restrained from charging onstage, according to Littlefeather.
As a result of her lightning rod moment, the now 75-year-old said her acting career was halted by the federal government, which threatened to stop any talk shows or productions that put her on the air. Nearly 50 years after her then controversial remarks, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is apologizing to Littlefeather for the “abuse” she faced as a result of her appearance on the telecast.
In June of this year, then Academy president David Rubin issued an apology letter to Littlefeather, which will be read in full at a September 17 Academy Museum event honoring her. “The abuse you endured because of this statement was unwarranted and unjustified,” Rubin wrote in his letter, which can be found in full below. “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.”
Littlefeather told THR that while the Academy’s mea culpa is “long overdue,” she was still surprised to receive it. “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’s event, An Evening With Sacheen Littlefeather, is free to the public via online reservations. It’s an occasion that she never could have imagined possible. “You know, I never stood up onstage in 1973 for any kind of accolades,” Littlefeather said. “I only stood there because my ancestors were with me, and I spoke the truth.”
The Academy’s full statement of reconciliation to Sacheen Littlefeather can be found below.