Sacheen Littlefeather dominated the headlines this week after the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences formally apologized for the abuse she suffered at the 1973 Oscars. Littlefeather, who was 26 at the ceremony, took the stage for Marlon Brando, who won Best Actor for The Godfather, and declined the award for him. Brando cited Hollywood’s problematic portrayal of “Native Americans in film and television” as the reason for the Oscar rejection.
On hearing of news of the Academy’s apology and an upcoming special program to be held in her honor at the Academy’s museum in September, Littlefeather gave the Academy a lengthy interview, in which she recalled in detail what happened the night when she rejected Brando’s Oskar.
Littlefeather walked onto the Oscars stage and said, “I’m Sacheen Littlefeather. I’m Marlon Brando’s official representative here tonight. Unfortunately, he cannot receive this Oscar because of today’s image of Native Americans in film and television.”
“That’s when people started booing and the other half started cheering,” Littlefeather recalled. “And that’s when everyone in the audience got into an uproar. And I focused on the mouths and the jaws that stood out in the audience, and there were quite a few. But it was like looking into a sea of Clorox, you know, there were very few people of color in the audience. And I just took a deep breath, bowed my head for a second, and then when they calmed down, I continued.”
Littlefeather said that as she left the stage, she saw John Wayne, who was angry at her speech and approached her in such a way that she thought he was going to attack her.
“[John Wayne] I didn’t like what I said up on the podium,” Littlefeather said. “So he came out in a rage to physically attack me and take me off the stage. And he had to be held down by six security guards to keep that from happening.”
“It was interesting because some people gave me the tomahawk chop. I thought, ‘That’s very racist. Really very racist.” And I just gracefully walked away and ignored her,” Littlefeather continued. “They placed two armed guards around me and said they were taking me to these different press rooms. One was for the television press, the radio press and the international press. And I had like 10 minutes in each press room and that was it. And then I was escorted out the door.”
Littlefeather was the first Native American to perform at an Academy Awards in 1973. She will join the Academy on September 17 for a special program and talk entitled “An Evening With Sacheen Littlefeather.”
“We are pleased and honored that Sacheen has so graciously chosen to work with the museum and the Academy to reflect on her difficult experiences at the 1973 Academy Awards,” said Jacqueline Stewart, Director and President of the Academy Museum.