Native American actress and activist reflects on 1973 Academy Awards protest

·2 min read

By Rich McKay

(Reuters) - Half a century ago, actor and activist Sacheen Littlefeather took the stage in a traditional buckskin dress at the Academy Awards show to decline an Oscar on behalf of Marlon Brando, launching into a speech about the film industry's mistreatment of Native Americans.

She was booed off the stage of the 1973 ceremony after 60 seconds for the remarks, which drew attention to an Indigenous people's protest at Wounded Knee, South Dakota. She was then professionally boycotted by the film industry for decades.

On Saturday evening Littlefeather, now 75, was met with thunderous applause as she took the stage to reflect on her protest at an event in her honor at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in Los Angeles.

"Well, I made it. It took 50 years," she said.

The event, "An Evening with Sacheen Littlefeather" featured live Native American performances and was streamed on the museum's YouTube page.

Her friend Brando boycotted the 45th Oscars ceremony because of the stereotypes of Native Americans in films and television. The winner of best actor for portraying Vito Corleone in "The Godfather" asked Littlefeather to attend in his place.

In addition to the boos, Littlefeather reminisced on Saturday, people made tomahawk chop gestures and mocked “Indian” whoops. "Big John Wayne was ready to attack me. He had to be held back by six security guards," she said.

Saturday's program included the reading of an apology letter to Littlefeather for her treatment by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

"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 letter says.

She responded, "I am accepting this apology not only for me alone, but an acknowledgement not only for me, but all of our (Native American) nation. Our nation needs to hear this apology."

(Reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by William Mallard)