Nearly 50 years after she took the stage at the Academy Awards on behalf of Marlon Brando and declined his Oscar for “The Godfather” — resulting in boos, heckling and insults — Sacheen Littlefeather is being embraced by the Motion Picture Academy, which announced Monday it has formally apologized to her and will welcome her to a “healing” event next month at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures.
Littlefeather made Oscar history when she walked on stage in 1973 at Brando’s request, turning down his best-actor Oscar over the treatment of American Indians by the film industry. A 26-year-old aspiring actress at the time, her appearance was met with derision by many, along with personal attacks on her heritage. It effectively ended her acting ambitions.
On Sept. 17, however, Littlefeather will be invited to the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures for what the Academy describes as a “special program of conversation, reflection, healing and celebration.”
It follows a June 18 letter that was sent to Littlefeather by David Rubin, outgoing president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, offering a long-time-coming apology for the treatment she received.
“As you stood on the Oscars stage in 1973 to not accept the Oscar on behalf of Marlon Brando, in recognition of the misrepresentation and mistreatment of Native American people by the film industry, you made a powerful statement that continues to remind us of the necessity of respect and the importance of human dignity,” Rubin wrote in the letter.
“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.
“We cannot realize the Academy’s mission to `inspire imagination and connect the world through cinema’ without a commitment to facilitating the broadest representation and inclusion reflective of our diverse global population,” he wrote.
He wrote that the Academy is committed to ensuring that indigenous voices “are visible, respected contributors to the global film community.”
“We hope you receive this letter in the spirit of reconciliation and as a recognition of your essential role in our journey as an organization,” he wrote. “You are forever respectfully engrained in our history.”
In a statement released by the Academy, Littlefeather said, “Regarding the Academy’s apology to me, 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.”
“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 20 years through the Institute’s Labs and Sundance Film Festival,” she said.
“This is a dream come true. 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.”
Rubin and incoming Academy President Janet Yang are both scheduled to take part in the Sept. 17 event at the Academy Museum. The event will also feature Native American Indian performances, a conversation between Littlefeather and producer Bird Runningwater and a reading of the Academy’s apology letter.