Nearly 50 years ago, Sacheen Littlefeather (Apache/Yaqui/AZ) was booed and heckled at the Academy Awards for declining Marlon Brando’s Oscar for Best Actor in “The Godfather.”
Littlefeather stood alone on L.A.’s Dorothy Chandler Pavilion stage and spoke about stereotypes of Native Americans in the film industry. She also brought attention to the 1973 Wounded Knee protests in South Dakota.
Afterwards, she was “professionally boycotted, personally attacked and harassed, and discriminated against.”
Now, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is apologizing and plans to host an “evening of conversation and healing” around the incident with Littlefeather at its museum in Los Angeles.
“An Evening with Sacheen Littlefeather” intends to encourage reflection on that historic evening at the Oscars in 1973, and focus on a” future founded on healing and celebration.”
The program will include a land acknowledgement courtesy of Virginia Carmelo (Tongva/So. CA), a reading of the Academy’s letter of apology, Native American Indian performances, and a conversation between Littlefeather and Academy Member, producer, and co-chair of the Academy’s Indigenous Alliance Bird Runningwater (Cheyenne/Mescalero Apache/NM).
In June, David Rubin, former president of the Academy, acknowledged the mistreatment of Littlefeather.
“You made a powerful statement that continues to remind us of the necessity of respect and the importance of human dignity,” Rubin 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.”
“You are forever respectfully engrained in our history,” he penned.
While the apology has been a long-time coming, Littlefeather is happy it happened now, rather than never.
“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. “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.
“This is a dream come true,” she continued. “It is profoundly heartening to see how much has changed since I did not accept the Academy Award 50 years ago. I am so proud of each and every person who will appear on stage.
An Evening with Sacheen Littlefeather is a free event and will take place on Sept. 17. For tickets, head here.