Sacheen Littlefeather who turned down Brandos Oscar dies at 75.jpgw1440

Sacheen Littlefeather, who turned down Brando’s Oscar, dies at 75

Sacheen Littlefeather, a Native American actress and activist, who made Oscar history in 1973 by rejecting the best actor award on behalf of Marlon Brando and shaking up the academy – and an estimated 85 million television viewers – with her speech condemning the abuse convicted by Indians, died Oct. 2 at home in Marin County, California. She was 75 years old.

The cause was breast cancer, said Calina Lawrence, her niece and caregiver. According to an article in A.frame, the digital magazine of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Ms Littlefeather was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2018, which has spread to her right lung.

For decades, the Oscars largely shunned political and social issues, earning a reputation as Hollywood’s biggest night while also serving as a glamorous showcase for the films and the people who made them. Ms. Littlefeather’s speech helped change that, ushering in an era in which actors and filmmakers increasingly used their acceptance speeches to name injustice, criticize politicians and urge the industry to diversify its ranks and include women and Better represent people of color.

26-year-old Mrs. Littlefeather was, according to the Academy, the first Native American woman to stand on the stage at the Oscars. Addressing the audience in moccasins and a suede dress, she explained that Native American rights activist Brando wrote “a very long speech” but she couldn’t deliver it “due to time constraints.” She later said that the show’s producer, Howard W. Koch, threatened to arrest her if she spoke for more than a minute.

On stage, she evoked offensive stereotypes about American Indians that have been immortalized in film and television, and drew attention to “recent events at Wounded Knee,” where a dispute over corruption on South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Indian Reservation has resulted in a standoff with the Federal authorities led.

your speech was once interrupted by a mixture of boos and applause, and she later recalled glancing at the mostly white audience — “a sea of ​​Clorox,” as she put it — and seeing the tomahawk chop, a racist one Gesture. By the end of the night, Ms Littlefeather said Brando’s front door had been pierced by two bullets.

“I went there thinking I could make a difference,” she told People magazine in 1990. “I was very naive. I told people about oppression. They said, ‘You’re ruining our evening.’ ”

Ms. Littlefeather had known Brando for about a year when she took the stage on his behalf at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion and turned down the award he received for playing mob boss Vito Corleone in The Godfather.

Waiting in the wings, according to Ms. Littlefeather and Oscars television director Marty Pasetta, was western star John Wayne, who allegedly tried to rush onto the stage and attack Ms. Littlefeather but was held back by six security guards. This account was later dismissed as a Hollywood fable by film historian Farran Smith Nehme and Wayne biographer Scott Eyman, who noted that the actor was in poor health and that the “six security men” were not mentioned until years later.

Regardless, the general reaction to Ms. Littlefeather’s remarks was evident throughout the rest of the ceremony. Introducing the Best Actress winner, Raquel Welch quipped, “I hope they don’t have a reason.” When Clint Eastwood announced best picture, he joked, “I don’t know if I should present this award on behalf of all the cowboys who filmed in every John Ford western over the years.”

Within days, other Hollywood stars had gotten involved, dismissing Ms. Littlefeather’s speech as a publicity stunt and chastising Brando for not appearing in person at the ceremony. Rumors about Ms. Littlefeather allegedly being a stripper or a hired actress from Mexico were rife. She appeared in half a dozen films, with small roles in westerns like The Trial of Billy Jack (1974), but said she was blacklisted – or “redlisted,” as she put it – by Hollywood Studios refused to hire her because of her Oscar performance.

“I spoke from my heart,” she told the Associated Press days after the ceremony. “These words were written in blood, perhaps my own blood. I felt like Christ carrying the weight of the cross on his shoulders.”

Many Native American activists celebrated her as a heroine. Russell Means, a leader of the Wounded Knee protest movement, credited her with bringing renewed attention to the demonstration symbolically taking place at the site of the US Army’s 1890 massacre of the Lakota people. Gunfire was exchanged during the occupation, killing two Native Americans and paralyzing a federal agent.

Native American filmmakers and producers, including Bird Runningwater, also saw in Ms. Littlefeather a precursor, a vital link in a movement towards more sensitive and accurate depictions of Native American life in television shows like Reservation Dogs and films like Prey. “The moment we have now,” Runningwater told NPR in August, “is something that she and our filmmaking community dreamed of 50 years ago.”

In June, then-President of the Academy David Rubin sent her a “statement of reconciliation,” writing that the harassment and discrimination she had endured over the years was “unjustified and unjustified.”

Academy apologizes to Indian woman who turned down Brando’s Oscar

“All we asked, and I asked, was, ‘Let’s get hired. let’s be ourselves Let’s play ourselves in movies. Let’s be a part of your industry, producing, directing, writing,'” she said in an August interview with A.frame about the night she took the stage at the Oscars. “‘Don’t write our stories for us. Let’s write our own stories. Let’s be who we are.’ ”

Ms. Littlefeather was born Marie Luise Cruz in Salinas, California on November 14, 1946. Her mother, a leather engraver and pianist, was white; Her father, a saddler and painter, was White Mountain Apache and Yaqui.

She told the Guardian she was “abused and neglected” as a child and dated her career as an activist to the evening she saw her father beating her mother and tried to stop the attack by hitting him with a broom struck. She ran out of the house and, as her father chased her in his truck, ran into a tree.

Ms Littlefeather was raised mainly by her maternal grandparents and said she was bullied at school because of her dark skin and straight black hair. As a teenager, she attempted suicide and was hospitalized for a year after suffering a nervous breakdown that she attributed to her struggle to reconcile her white and Native American identities.

In her early 20s, she had moved to San Francisco and joined the American Indian Movement, joining other urban Native Americans to reconnect with their ancestors and campaigning for Native American rights. She began using a new name, Sacheen, and supported herself as a model, winning the Miss American Vampire beauty pageant in 1970 as part of a promotion for a Metro Goldwyn Mayer horror film.

She also appeared in television commercials and was the director of public service at a San Francisco radio station. She said she met Brando through her Bay Area neighbor Francis Ford Coppola, the director of The Godfather, who promised to give the actor a letter she wrote about his interest in Native American issues. Their relationship culminated in Brando calling her the day before the Oscars to invite her to attend the ceremony on his behalf.

Brando praised her looks during an interview on The Dick Cavett Show — “they should at least have had the courtesy to listen to her,” he said — while Ms. Littlefeather was studying at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco.

In the early 1980s, after recovering from a severe lung condition resulting from childhood tuberculosis, she studied nutrition at the Antioch University campus in San Francisco. She later worked as a health advisor for indigenous communities.

At the time of her Oscar speech, she was married to engineer Michael Rubio. She later married Charles Koshiway Johnston, her partner of 32 years, who died in 2021. Information about survivors was not immediately available.

During the AIDS epidemic, Ms. Littlefeather worked at a hospice founded by Mother Teresa in the Bay Area. Reconnecting with the Catholic faith of her childhood, she also led a prayer group in San Francisco named after Kateri Tekakwitha, a 17th-century Algonquian and Mohawk woman who was founded by Pope Benedict XVI. was canonized. The group mixed traditions, including the incorporation of buffalo dances into Catholic mass.

“That’s how I saved my life by mixing the two together,” Ms Littlefeather told the Guardian in 2021.