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Film Academy Apologizes To Sacheen Littlefeather Nearly 50 Years After She Rejected Marlon Brando’s Oscar

An image of Native American woman Sacheen Littlefeather, wearing Native American-styled clothing. She stands in front of a large golden Motion Picture Academy Oscar statue.
Sacheen Littlefeather, 1973.
(Courtesy of the Academy Museum
©Globe Photos/ZUMA Press)
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The Motion Picture Academy has issued an apology to Sacheen Littlefeather, who made history when she appeared on behalf of Marlon Brando at the 1973 Academy Awards and rejected his Oscar win for 1972’s The Godfather.

Cinematic history hosted by Jacqueline Stewart

The Academy has also scheduled a “special celebration” for Littlefeather on Sept. 17 at the Academy Museum’s David Geffen Theater, which the Academy describes as an evening of “conversation, healing, and celebration.”

Brando asked Littlefeather to appear at the Oscars on his behalf and decline the Oscar, if he won, to shine a light on the misrepresentation and mistreatment of Native Americans in the film industry.

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1973: Marlon Brando Cannot Accept This Very Generous Award

Littlefeather spoke at length earlier this year to LAist Studio’s The Academy Museum Podcast about the events leading up to that evening, how she became friends with Brando, her treatment after giving a brief speech that evening, and what happened after. The episode was released June 15, just days before the Academy sent its apology letter, dated June 18 — the letter was released to the Public Monday.

In the apology letter sent to Littlefeather on behalf of the Academy, Academy President David Rubin opens by noting that the letter “has been a long time coming.”

It addresses the suffering Littlefeather went through following her appearance. While not explicitly stated in the letter, the Academy’s statement announcing the public event notes that she was “professionally boycotted, personally attacked and harassed, and discriminated against for the last 50 years.”

Rubin writes:

“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 is irreparable. For too long the courage you showed has been unacknowledged. For this, we offer both our deepest apologies and our sincere admiration.”

The letter goes on to make a commitment to representation and inclusion, noting that they’ve been guided by the Academy’s Indigenous Alliance in helping to make sure that indigenous voices are visible and respected.

Sacheen Littlefeather’s Response

Littlefeather’s response is included in the Academy’s statement, writing, “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.”

She adds that she never thought she’d live to see the day when she’d be a part of a special celebration like the one announced by the Academy, which Littlefeather is also programming. The event is set to include Native performers, as well as an interview with Littlefeather by TV/film producer Bird Runningwater, who works with the Sundance Institute to guide their work with Indigenous filmmakers.

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“This is a dream come true,” Littlefeather writes. “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.”

The announcement of the celebration notes that her speech is highlighted in the Academy’s Awards History gallery. Appreciation for Littlefeather from Academy Museum Director/President Jacqueline Stewart is also included in the Academy’s release. She thanks Bird Runningwater and Heather Rae for helping to foster the museum and the Academy’s relationship with Littlefeather.

You can read the full letter from the Academy’s president to Littlefeather below:

Academy's Apology

June 18, 2022

Dear Sacheen Littlefeather,

I write to you today a letter that has been a long time coming on behalf of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, with humble acknowledgment of your experience at the 45th Academy Awards.

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.

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 is 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.

Today, nearly 50 years later, and with the guidance of the Academy’s Indigenous Alliance, we are firm in our commitment to ensuring indigenous voices — the original storytellers — are visible, respected contributors to the global film community. We are dedicated to fostering a more inclusive, respectful industry that leverages a balance of art and activism to be a driving force for progress.

We hope you receive this letter in the spirit of reconciliation and as recognition of your essential role in our journey as an organization. You are forever respectfully engrained in our history.

With warmest regards,

David Rubin President
Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
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