The Native American activist and former actress received an official apology from the Academy in June. She had been blacklisted for representing the actor at the 1973 Oscars.
Sacheen Littlefeather (Apache/Yaqui/Arizona), a Native American actress and activist, has died. She took to the stage at the 1973 Academy Awards to say that Marlon Brando would not accept his award for The Godfather. She lived to be 75 years old.
An Activist Who Staged Marlon Brando’s Oscar At The Age Of 75
A statement from her caretaker said Sacheen Littlefeather died at noon Sunday at her home in the Northern California town of Novato. She was surrounded by her family and friends.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced the news on social media Sunday evening. They had reconciled with Littlefeather in June and held a party for her just two weeks ago.
Littlefeather said in March 2018 that she had stage 4 breast cancer that had spread to other parts of her body in recent years.
Brando skipped the Oscars in March 1973 to protest how Native Americans were portrayed in movies and to show his support for the ongoing occupation of Wounded Knee, where 200 members of the American Indian Movement (AIM) fought thousands of U.S. marshals and other federal agents in the South Dakota town.
After Liv Ullmann and Roger Moore listed the nominees for Best Actor and Ullmann announced Brando as the winner, a switch was made to Sacheen Littlefeather, then 26 and wearing a traditional Apache robe, as she strode from her seat in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion to the stage while the announcer said, “Miss Sacheen Littlefeather accepts the award for Marlon Brando and The Godfather.
Moore presented Sacheen Littlefeather with a statuette, but as she stepped to the podium, she raised her right hand to decline it. She told the crowd in Chandler and the 85 million viewers at home that Brando “unfortunately cannot accept this very generous award.”
Brando, who had told her not to touch the trophy, had given her a typed eight-page speech, but the show’s producer, Howard Koch, told her she had only 60 seconds.
She continued, “And the reasons for that are the way American Indians are treated today by the film industry…. And on television in movie reruns, as well as what happened recently at Wounded Knee.”
Some attendees booed and some cheered as Sacheen Littlefeather spoke, but the public reaction immediately following her speech was overwhelmingly negative.
Some media questioned her Native American heritage, since her father was Apache and Yaqui and her mother was white.
It was also said that she had borrowed her costume for the ceremony, and it was alleged that conservative celebrities such as John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, and Charlton Heston, all of whom had starred in many Westerns, criticized Brando and Littlefeather’s actions.
In 2016, she told the Los Angeles Times that Wayne “was in the wings ready to get me off the stage” because she had become a fixture at the Oscars. “Six security guards had to restrain him.” An investigation into the matter found that was not the case.
Still, the Academy sent her an apology nearly 50 years later.
In a June 18 letter, then-AMPAS President David Rubin told her, “The abuse you suffered because of this statement was unwarranted and unprotected.”
“The emotional pain you have suffered and the damage you have done to your career in our field cannot be repaired. For too long, no one noticed how brave you were. For that, we offer both our deepest regrets and our deepest admiration.”