Sacheen Littlefeather who delivered Marlon Brandos Oscar rejection speech dies

Sacheen Littlefeather, who delivered Marlon Brando’s Oscar rejection speech, dies at 75

Sacheen Littlefeather (Apache/Yaqui/Ariz.), the Native American actress and activist who took the stage at the 1973 Academy Awards to reveal that Marlon Brando would not accept his Oscar for The Godfather, has died. She was 75.

Littlefeather died Sunday afternoon at her home in the Northern California city of Novato surrounded by loved ones, according to a statement from her caretaker. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which reconciled with Littlefeather in June and held a celebration in her honor just two weeks ago, announced the news on social media Sunday night.

Littlefeather announced in March 2018 that she had been diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer and had metastasized in recent years.

Brando had decided to boycott the Academy Awards in March 1973 to protest the on-screen portrayal of Native Americans and to pay tribute to the ongoing cast of Wounded Knee, which featured 200 members of the American Indian Movement (AIM) against thousands American marshals and other federal agents lined up in the city of South Dakota.

After hosts Liv Ullmann and Roger Moore listed the best actor nominees and Ullmann called Brando’s name as the winner, the television show cut to Littlefeather, then 26 and in traditional Apache dress, walking from her seat in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion to the stage as the announcer explained, “To accept the award for Marlon Brando and The Godfather, Miss Sacheen Littlefeather.”

However, Littlefeather held up her right hand to refuse the statuette offered by Moore as she reached the podium, telling the Chandler audience and the 85 million viewers watching at home that Brando “very regretfully did not accept this very generous award can”.

She spoke in measured tones, but off the cuff – Brando, who told her not to touch the trophy, had given her an eight-page typed speech, but television producer Howard Koch told her she had no more than 60 seconds – She continued, “And the reasons for that are the treatment of American Indians by the film industry today … and on television in film reruns and also in the recent events at Wounded Knee.”

Littlefeather’s remarks were met with a few boos and applause inside the building, but public sentiment immediately after her appearance was largely negative. Some media questioned her Native American ancestry (her father was Apache and Yaqui and her mother was white) and claimed she rented her costume for the ceremony, while conservative celebrities including John Wayne, Clint Eastwood and Charlton Heston – three actors who starred in many a western – said to have criticized Brando’s and Littlefeather’s actions.

By the time she became an indelible part of Oscar history, Wayne was “raised and ready to have me taken off the stage,” she told the Los Angeles Times in 2016. “He had to be held down by six security guards.” That may not have been the case, an investigation found.

Regardless, the Academy apologized to her nearly 50 years later.

“The abuse you suffered as a result of that statement was unjustified and unjustified,” then-AMPAS President David Rubin wrote to her in a June 18 letter. “The emotional distress you have endured and the cost of your own career in our industry is irreparable. For too long the courage you have shown has not been recognised. For this we offer both our deepest apologies and our sincere admiration.”

“I was shocked. I never thought I would live to see the day that I would hear and experience this,” Littlefeather told . “When I stood on the podium in 1973, I was alone.”

Born Marie Louise Cruz on November 14, 1946 in the northern California coastal town of Salinas, Littlefeather was raised primarily by her mother’s parents. She began exploring her Native American identity at California State University in Hayward and in 1969 participated in the Native occupation to retake the island of Alcatraz and it was her activist friends who renamed her.

Shortly thereafter, Littlefeather received a full scholarship to study acting at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco. “Dancing and acting was an escape from reality,” she told the Native American Times in 2010.

She landed a few radio and television commercial jobs (including as Miss Vampire USA for a Dark Shadows soap opera promotion), but found it difficult to land substantive roles in Hollywood: “Americans liked the blonde Sandra Dee look… I got speaking parts in Italian movies because they liked the exotic.”

In 1972, she participated in a planned Playboy shoot entitled Ten Little Indians, which was shelved prior to release when the cast of Wounded Knee began in February 1973. But after Littlefeather’s Oscar performance, Playboy printed her photos as a standalone feature, further discrediting her in the eyes of some.

She had first met Brando several years earlier when she was in Washington to give a presentation on race and minorities to the FCC.

“In the ’70s there was AIM and the Indian civil rights movement and that was the part I was in,” she said. “I was sort of a spokesman for the Native American stereotype in film and television. All I said was, ‘We don’t want Chuck Connors to play Geronimo.'”

When she mentioned to Brando that she didn’t have an Oscars gown, “Marlon told me to wear my suede,” she said in the 2018 documentary Sacheen: Breaking the Silence.

Three months after the Oscars, Brando appeared on The Dick Cavett Show and said that he “was embarrassed by Sacheen. She couldn’t say what she wanted to say and I was distraught that people were booing and whistling and stomping, even though it might have been directed at me. You should have at least been polite enough to listen to her.”

Although Brando’s stunt had the intended effect of renewed attention on Wounded Knee, Littlefeather said it put her life on the line and killed her acting career, claiming that she lost guild memberships and was banned from the industry. (Furthermore, the Academy subsequently prohibited winners from sending powers of attorney to accept — or decline — prizes on their behalf.)

“I was blacklisted – or you could say ‘redlisted,'” Littlefeather said in her documentary. “Johnny Carson, Dick Cavett and others didn’t want me on their shows. … The doors were tightly closed, never to open again.”

Littlefeather managed to appear in a handful of films (including The Trial of Billy Jack, Johnny Firecloud and Winterhawk) before giving up acting for good and earning a degree in holistic health from Antioch University with a minor in Native American Medicine. Her wellness work has included writing a health column for the Kiowa parent newspaper in Oklahoma, teaching the Traditional Indian Medicine program at St. Mary’s Hospital in Tucson, Arizona, and working with Mother Teresa on behalf of AIDS patients in the Bay Area. She later was a founding member of the American Indian AIDS Institute of San Francisco.

Littlefeather also continued her involvement in the arts, co-founding the nonprofit National American Indian Performing Arts Registry in the early ’80s, consulting on several PBS programs, and continuing to advocate for Native American inclusion in Hollywood (she appeared in the documentation from 2009). reel Indians).

“I was the first woman of color to ever make a political statement in Oscars history,” Littlefeather said of Sacheen, and at the time Coretta Scott King and Cesar Chavez were among the few to publicly praise her Oscars speeches.

But over the decades, her involvement on stage proved to pave the way for the conversation about diversity in Hollywood that continues today, and Jada Pinkett Smith cited her as inspiration for her own boycott of the 2016 Academy Awards (the #OscarsSoWhite ceremony ).

The two exchanged emails at the time, in which Smith wrote: “Thank you for being one of the brave and courageous for paving the way for those of us who need a reminder of the importance of just being true be.”

Littlefeather is buried next to her husband Charles Koshiway (Otoe/Sac&Fox) in Red Rock, Oklahoma. Koshiway died of blood cancer in November 2021. The two met 32 ​​years ago at a Pow Wow at the University of California at Davis.

“The night before we met I had a dream that I was being introduced to this handsome Indian man and he tip his white Stetson cowboy hat and spoke in this very soft Oklahoma accent, ‘How’s Yew?’ ‘ she told TH in August. “The next day my roommate and I went to the UC Davis Pow Wow and under that white Stetson cowboy hat was this very handsome Indian man and the first thing he did was tip his hat, look me in the eye and to say, ‘How’s Eibe?’ That was all it took. The man of my dreams.”

Upon receiving the Academy’s apology, Littlefeather said of her late husband, “His spirit is still here with me, and I know he always wanted justice and reconciliation for me.” And two weeks before her death, when she died Stepping onto an academy stage for the second time in her life at the museum’s celebration in her honor, she knew her own death was imminent: “I’ll be crossing over to the spirit world soon. And you know, I’m not afraid to die. Because we come from a we/our/our society. We do not come from a me/me/me society. And we learn to give away at a young age. When we are honored, we give.”

A Catholic funeral service for her will be held this month at St. Rita Church in Fairfax, California, followed by a reception. Littlefeather asked for donations to the American Indian Child Resource Center in Oakland.

In her last public appearance, she spoke again on behalf of all indigenous people: “I accept this apology, not only for myself, but as a recognition, knowing that it was not only for me, but also for all of our nations to hear and deserve this apology tonight. Look at our people. Look at each other and be proud that we are all survivors. Please, when I am gone, always remember that whenever you stand up for your truth, you will keep my voice and the voices of our nations and our people alive.”