The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences said Monday that it has formally apologized to Sacheen Littlefeather over the actress’ famed appearance at the 1973 Oscars, where she appeared on Marlon Brando’s behalf to decline his Academy Award for Best Actor for his role in The Godfather.
The “statement of reconciliation” signed by then-AMPAS president David Rubin was sent in June but revealed today as the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures announced plans for “An Evening with Sacheen Littlefeather,” a program involving and programmed by Littlefeather that will take place September 17.
Read Rubin’s letter below.
At the 1973 Oscars, Littlefeather read a message from Brando after his name was announced highlighting Native American stereotypes in the entertainment industry as well as the 1973 Wounded Knee protest in South Dakota. The Academy said today the moment “resulted in her being professionally boycotted, personally attacked and harassed, and discriminated against for the last 50 years.”
Littlefeather, a White Mountain Apache, spoke out in a documentary last year titled Sacheen: Breaking the Silence said Brando was delighted by her performance, but then felt abandoned by the actor amid the ensuing backlash over her appearcance. In the doc she claimed she was “blacklisted” by Hollywood and never got another film or TV role.
“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,” said Littlefeather in today’s press release. “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. 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.”
The museum event will include a land acknowledgement courtesy of Virginia Carmelo (Tongva/So. CA), a reading of the Academy’s letter, several Native American Indian performances, and a conversation between Littlefeather and Runningwater, the latter an Academy Member, producer and co-chair of the Academy’s Indigenous Alliance.
Here’s the Academy’s letter, which first appeared today in THR.
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 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.
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,
President, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
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