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Academy apologizes to Sacheen Littlefeather over 1973 Marlon Brando Oscar controversy

The organizers behind the Academy Awards are apologizing to Sacheen Littlefeather nearly 50 years after she famously took to the stage on behalf of Marlon Brando and vowing to focus on inclusivity.

In a June “statement of reconciliation” released Monday by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, President David Rubin acknowledged to Littlefeather that his note “has been a long time coming since the 45th annual Oscars in 1973.

That year, “The Godfather” star Brando declined his Academy Award for the film and had Littlefeather represent him at the ceremony.

Littlefeather said the reasons for Brando rejecting the honor were “the treatment of American-Indians today by the film industry and on television, in movie reruns, and also with recent happenings at Wounded Knee.”

The Oscars statement by Littlefeather, then the president of the National Native American Affirmative Image Committee, came a month after the deadly Wounded Knee occupation, in which hundreds of American Indian Movement activists took hold of the South Dakota massacre site where in 1890 as many as 300 unarmed Native Americans were killed.

Littlefeather’s statement at the Academy Awards was met with applause and jeers. She recalled in a 2016 interview with the Los Angeles Times that she “got threats” following her speech.

“John Wayne was in the wings, ready to have me taken off stage. He had to be restrained by six security guards,” Littlefeather said.

In his letter, Rubin called Littlefeather’s words a “powerful statement,” writing they continue “to remind us of the necessity of respect and the importance of human dignity.”

“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,” the Academy president said.

“We cannot realize the Academy’s mission to ‘inspire imagination and connect the world through cinema’ without a commitment to facilitating the broadest representation and inclusion reflective of our diverse global population,” the letter said.

Responding to the Academy’s apology, Littlefeather said in a statement, “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,” she said.

The Academy Museum of Motion Pictures announced Monday it would host a free Sep. 17 program of “conversation, reflection, healing and celebration” with Littlefeather.

The 75-year-old actor and activist called the program at the Los Angeles museum 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 said.

—Updated at 4:08 p.m.

Tags John Wayne Marlon Brando Sacheen Littlefeather
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