Sacheen Littlefeather (Apache/Yaqui/AZ), a Native American civil rights activist who famously declined Marlon Brando’s 1973 Oscar for Best Actor in “The Godfather,” has died at the age of 75, according to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
Instead of accepting the award, Littlefeather spoke about the mistreatment of Native Americans, a shift toward political stances that continues at the prestigious awards ceremony to this day.
“For decades, the Oscars largely steered clear of politics and social issues, acquiring a reputation as Hollywood’s biggest night while serving as a glitzy showcase for the movies and the people who made them,” the Washington Post wrote in its obituary. “Ms. Littlefeather’s speech helped change that, ushering in a new era in which actors and filmmakers increasingly used their acceptance speeches to call out injustice, criticize politicians and urge the industry to diversify its ranks and better represent women and people of color.”
Her death comes just weeks after the Academy apologized to Littlefeather, who had been “professionally boycotted” after the incident.
In August, the Academy hosted an “evening of conversation and healing” with Littlefeather at its museum in Los Angeles.
David Rubin, the former president of the Academy, acknowledged Littlefeather’s mistreatment in a statement earlier this year.
“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,” Rubin wrote at the time.