Sacheen Littlefeather Receives Apology Letter for 'Emotional Burden' Following 1973 Oscars Speech
By Zach Seemayer
It has been nearly 50 years since Sacheen Littlefeather's historic and headline-making surprise appearance at the 1973 Academy Awards, where she delivered a powerful speech about Hollywood's mistreatment and misrepresentation of Native Americans. Now, the Academy is sharing an apology for the subsequent fallout from her act of protest.
Academy president David Rubin issued a letter to Littlefeather on the Academy's behalf in June, praising her speech and the impact it had.
"As you stood on the Oscars stage in 1973 to not accept the Oscar on behalf of Marlon Brando, in recognition of the misrepresentation and mistreatment of Native American people by the film industry, you made a powerful statement that continues to remind us of the necessity of respect and the importance of human dignity," Rubin said Littlefeather's remarks at the ceremony in the letter.
"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," the letter continued. "For too long the courage you showed has been unacknowledged. For this, we offer both our deepest apologies and our sincere admiration."
"Today, nearly 50 years later, and with the guidance of the Academy's Indigenous Alliance, we are firm in our commitment to ensuring indigenous voices-the original storytellers-are visible, respected contributors to the global film community," the apology expressed. "We are dedicated to fostering a more inclusive, respectful industry that leverages a balance of art and activism to be a driving force for progress."
"We hope you receive this letter in the spirit of reconciliation and as recognition of your essential role in our journey as an organization," Rubin concluded the apology. "You are forever respectfully engrained in our history."
Littlefeather released a statement regarding the apology, published by Entertainment Weekly, sharing, "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."
The academy also announced that it will be hosting a special event, An Evening with Sacheen Littlefeather, which is set to take place on Sept. 17 at the Academy Museum in Hollywood.
"I never thought I'd live to see the day for this program to take place, featuring such wonderful Native performers and Bird Runningwater, a television and film producer who also guided the Sundance Institute's commitment to Indigenous filmmakers for twenty years through the Institute's Labs and Sundance Film Festival," Littlefeather's statement shared. "This is a dream come true."
"It is profoundly heartening to see how much has changed since I did not accept the Academy Award 50 years ago," she added. "I am so proud of each and every person who will appear on stage."
In 1973, Littlefeather -- then 26 -- took the stage in place of Brando, who won the Best Actor Oscar for The Godfather, and delivered a message on Brando's behalf about the mistreatment and oppression of Native Americans.
The unexpected speech led to a cacophony of confusion, jeering and some cheers. However, it was a moment that haunted Littlefeather for years and led to her being essentially blacklisted in Hollywood.