Sacheen Littlefeather, the actress who declined Marlon Brando’s best actor Oscar in 1973, has died, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences have announced. She was 75.
Littlefeather’s death was announced on the Academy’s Twitter account Sunday night. No cause of death was given, but she was reportedly battling breast cancer.
Littlefeather, who was born Marie Louise Cruz on Nov. 14, 1946, in Salinas, Calif., changed her name in her 20s when she started exploring her Native American heritage and became an activist.
She made one of the most memorable moments in Oscar history, on March 27, 1973, when she took the stage after Brando was announced as winner of the best actor award for his role in “The Godfather” and offered Brando’s regrets for refusing the award because of Hollywood’s treatment and portrayal of Native Americans.
Her speech was met with a smattering of boos and cheers. She said she saw actor John Wayne being restrained from rushing the stage during her speech.
“People were making money off that racism of the Hollywood Indian,” she told KQED in 2020. “Of course, they’re going to boo. They don’t want their evening interrupted.”
Nearly 50 years after she took the stage on behalf of Brando, she took part in a “healing” event at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in September.
It was described as a special program of conversation, reflection, healing and celebration.
“It was with prayer that I went up there,” Littlefeather said during the event. “I went up there like a proud Indian woman; with dignity, with courage, with grace and with humility.
“We were in a collaboration at that time, because [Brando] was very aware of the stereotype of Native American Indians in film, television and the sports industry. And so was I.”
The sold-out event included a discussion between Littlefeather and producer N. Bird Runningwater, the co-chair of the Academy’s Indigenous Alliance and former head of the Sundance Institute’s Native Lab.